Journal of the American Chemical Society, Vol.138, No.47, 15465-15472, 2016
Electrochemical Reduction of Dissolved Oxygen in Alkaline, Solid Polymer Electrolyte Films
Mass transport of oxygen through an ionomer contained within the cathode catalyst layer in an anion exchange membrane fuel cell is critical for a functioning fuel cell, yet is relatively unexplored. Moreover, because water is a reactant in the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in alkaline media, an adequate supply of water is required. In this work, ORR mass transport behavior is reported for methylated hexamethyl-p-terphenyl polymethylbenzimidazoles (HMT-PMBI), charge balanced by hydroxide ions (IEC from 2.1 to 2.5 mequiv/g), and commercial Fumatec FAA-3 membranes. Electrochemical mass transport parameters are determined by potential step chronoamperometry using a Pt microdisk solid-state electrochemical cell, in air at 60 degrees C, with relative humidity controlled between 70% and 98%. The oxygen diffusion coefficient (D-bO2), oxygen concentration (c(bO2)), and oxygen permeability (D-bO2 center dot c(bO2)) were obtained by nonlinear curve fitting of the current transients using the Shoup-Szabo equation. Mass transport parameters are correlated to water content of the ionomer membrane. It is found that the oxygen diffusion coefficients decreased by 2 orders of magnitude upon reducing the water content of the ionomer membrane by lowering the relative humidity. The limitation of the Shoup-Szabo equation for extracting ORR mass transport parameters using thin ionomer films was evaluated by numerical modeling of the current transients, which revealed that a significant discrepancy (up to 29% under present conditions) was evident for highly hydrated membranes for which the oxygen diffusion coefficient was largest, and in which the oxygen depletion region reached the ionomer/gas interface during the chronoamperometric analysis.