Performance of different proton exchange membrane water electrolyser components
Sutherland, Richard Daniel
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Water electrolysis is one of the first methods used to generate hydrogen and is thus not considered to be a new technology. With advances in proton exchange membrane technology and the global tendency to implement renewable energy, the technology of water electrolysis by implementation of proton exchange membrane as solid electrolyte has developed into a major field of research over the last decade. To gain an understanding of different components of the electrolyser it is best to conduct a performance analysis based on hydrogen production rates and polarisation curves. The study aim was to compare the technologies of membrane electrode assembly with gas diffusion electrode and the proton exchange membranes of Nafion® and polybenzimidazole in a commercial water electrolyser. To determine which of the components are best suited for the process a laboratory scale electrolyser was to be used to replicate the commercially scaled performance. The effect of feed water contaminants on electrolyser performance was also investigated by introducing iron and magnesium salt solutions and aqueous methanol solutions in the feed reservoir. Components to be tested included different PEM types as well as the base component on which the electrocatalyst layer is applied. The proton exchange membranes compared were standard Nafion® N117 and polybenzimidazole meta-sulfone sulfonated polyphenyl sulfone (PBI-sPSU). A laboratory scale electrolyser from Giner Electrochemical Systems was utilised where different components were tested and compared with one another. Experimental results with commercial membrane electrode assemblies and gas diffusion electrodes demonstrated the influence of temperature on electrolyser performance for the proton exchange membranes, where energy efficiency increased with temperature. The effect of pressure was insignificant over the selected pressure range. Comparison of membrane electrode assembly and gas diffusion electrode technologies showed enhanced performance from MEA technology, this was most likely due to superior electrocatalyst contact with the PEM. Results of synthesised Nafion® N117 and PBI-sPSU MEA showed increased performance for PBI-sPSU, but it was found to be more susceptible to damage under severe conditions. The effect of metal cations in the supply reservoir exhibited reduced energy efficiencies and increased specific energy consumption for the test duration. Treatment with sulphuric acid was found to partially restore membrane electrode assembly performance, though it is believed that permanent damage was inflicted on the membrane electrode assembly electrocatalyst. Use of aqueous methanol solutions were found to increase electrolyser performance. It was also found that aqueous methanol electrolysis occurs at lower current densities, whereas a combination of aqueous methanol and water electrolysis occurred at higher current densities depending on the concentration of methanol.
- Engineering