Faculty Advisor

Ravindra Datta

Faculty Advisor

Satya S. Shivkumar

Faculty Advisor

Robert W. Thompson


Proton-Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells are extremely attractive for replacing internal combustion engines in the next generation of automobiles. However, two major technical challenges remain to be resolved before PEM fuel cells become commercially successful. The first issue is that CO, produced in trace amounts in fuel reformer, severely limits the performance of the conventional platinum-based PEM fuel cell. A possible solution to the CO poisoning is higher temperature operation, as the CO adsorption and oxidation overpotential decrease considerably with increasing temperature. However, the process temperature is limited in atmospheric fuel cells because water is critical for high conductivity in the standard PEM. An increase in operating pressure allows higher temperature operation, although at the expense of parasitic power for the compressor. Further the conventional PEM, Nafion? is limited to 120°C due to it's low glass transition temperature. Thus, the design of higher temperature PEMs with stable performance under low relative humidity (RH) conditions is considered based on a proton transport model for the PEM and a fuel cell model that have been developed. These predictive models capture the significant aspects of the experimental results with a minimum number of fitted parameters and provides insight into the design of higher temperature PEMs operating at low RH. The design of an efficacious high temperature, low RH, PEM was based on enhancing the acidity and water sorption properties of a conventional PEM by impregnating it with a solid superacid. A systematic investigation of the composite Nafion?inorganic PEMs comprising experiments involving water uptake, ion-exchange capacity (IEC), conductivity and fuel cell polarization is presented in the work. The most promising composite is the nano-structured ZrO2/Nafion?PEM which exhibits an increase in the IEC, a 40% increase in water sorbed and a resulting 24% conductivity enhancement vs. unmodified Nafion?112 at 120°C and at RH < 40%.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





proton exchange membranes, fuel cells, Zirconia, modeling, composite membranes, conductivity od PEMs, Nafion, water sorption of PEMs