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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Mechanical Engineering (Engineering)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Hongtan Liu

Second Committee Member

Xiangyang Zhou

Third Committee Member

Roger M. Leblanc

Fourth Committee Member

Singiresu S. Rao


In polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells one of the most important components is the flow field. The flow field distributes reactant gasses to the active area and also delivers electrons from the outer circuit so that the electrochemical reaction may be completed. Optimizing flow field design is extremely important in order to increase the overall power density of the fuel cell. It is particularly important to understand the ways in which the different portions of the flow field, namely the land and channel sections, interact with the gas diffusion layer (GDL), catalyst layer and membrane; this study focuses on those interactions. The most common type of flow field design currently used in PEM fuel cells is the serpentine flow field. It is used for its simplicity of design, its effectiveness in distributing reactants and its water removal capabilities. The knowledge about where current density is higher, under the land or the channel, is critical for flow field design and optimization. Yet, no direct measurement data are available for serpentine flow fields. In this study a fuel cell with a single channel serpentine flow field is used to separately measure the current density under the land and channel, which is either catalyzed or insulated on the cathode. In this manner, a systematic study is conducted under a wide variety of conditions and a series of comparisons are made between land and channel current density. Results show that under most operating conditions, current density is higher under the land than that under the channel. However, at low voltage, a rapid drop off in current density occurs under the land due to concentration losses. The mechanisms for the direct measurement results and general guidelines for serpentine flow field design and optimizations are provided. In addition the same technique is utilized to separately measure current density under the land and channel on a variety of serpentine flow field geometries. Each flow field is tested under a wide variety of operating conditions thereby providing guidance for the optimum design geometry. Experimental results show that generally flow fields with both thinner lands and thinner channels provide better overall performance. However, the optimal flow field designs are highly dependent on fuel cell operating parameters. Finally, it is critical not only to know where the current density is greater, under the land or under the channel, but to understand the fundamental mechanisms driving these differences. Resistance was measured, ex-situ, between the GDE and flow plate under the land of the flow field and under the channel separately. The contact resistance between the gas diffusion electrode (GDE) and the graphite flow plate were measured using an ex-situ technique. The resistance was measured under different land and channel widths. Cyclic Voltammetry tests were also conducted in order to determine if there is any different in electrochemically active area(ECA) under the land and under the channel and what the cause of this difference might be. Results show that the compression of the gas diffusion electrode not only affects the electronic resistance but the ECA as well and that these are key factors in current density variations under the land and channel.


Fuel Cell; Pem; Flow Field; Current Distribution