Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Mechanical Engineering (Engineering)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Hongtan Liu

Second Committee Member

Angel Kaifer

Third Committee Member

Sadik Kakac

Fourth Committee Member

Xiangyang Zhou


Many modeling studies have been carried out to simulate the current distribution across the channel and shoulder direction in a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. However the modeling results do not show agreement on the current density distribution. At the same time, no experimental measurement result of current density distribution across the channel and the shoulder direction is available to testify the modeling studies. Hence in this work, an experiment was conducted to separately measure the current densities under the channel and the shoulder in a PEM fuel cell by using the specially designed membrane electrode assemblies. The experimental results show that the current density under the channel is lower than that under the shoulder except when the fuel cell load is high. Afterwards two more experiments were carried out to find out the reason causing the higher current density under the shoulder. The effects of the electric resistance of gas diffusion layer (GDL) in the lateral and through-plane directions on the current density distribution were studied respectively. The experimental results show that it is the through-plane electric resistance that leads to the higher current density under the shoulder. Moreover, a three-dimensional fuel cell model is developed using FORTRAN. A new method of combining the thin-film model and homogeneous model is utilized to model the catalyst layer. The model is validated by the experimental data. The distribution of current density, oxygen concentration, membrane phase potential, solid phase potential and overpotential in a PEM fuel cell have been studied by the model. The modeling results show that the new modeling method provides better simulations to the actual transport processes and chemical reaction in the catalyst layer of a PEM fuel cell.


PEM Fuel Cells; Current Density Distribution; Mass Transfer; GDL Electric Resistance; Fuel Cell Model