Influence of Ink Formulation and Drying Conditions on Ionomer Distribution in High-Performance Roll-to-Roll-Coated Gas-Diffusion Electrodes

Scott Mauger, Min Wang, K. Neyerlin, Tim van Cleve, Mike Ulsh, Michael Dzara, Svitlana Pylypenko, Firat Cetinbas, Jaehyung Park, Rajesh Ahluwahlia, Debbie Myers, Leiming Hu, Shawn Litster

Research output: NRELPresentation


To enable mass production of fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) catalyst layers production will require continuous roll-to-roll (R2R) coating processes. Gas diffusion electrodes (GDEs) are advantageous for mass production because the catalyst layer can be directely coated on the microporous layer of the gas diffusion media without the need for a decal-transfer process. It is known that the water-to-alcohol ratio in the catalyst ink influences the interactions of the ionomer with the catalyst leading to different distributions of ionomer in spray-coated catalyst layers. It is also known that during drying of colloidal mixtures, like fuel cell inks, factors such as drying rate, particle size, and agglomeration influence how the materials distribute themselves throughout the thickness of the dired film. Thus far there have only been limited studies to understand how process conditions such as ink formulation and drying temperature influence the distribution of ionomer and catalyst coated using scalable methods. This understanding is especially important for GDEs since it is known that having a sufficient amount of ionomer at the catalyst layer-membrane interface is critical for high performance. In this study we have focused on determining how the ratio of water to 1-propanol in the catalyst ink ink and drying temperature influence the distribution of ionomer throughout the thickness of the catalyst layer. Using a combination of Kelvin probe and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy we show that an ionomer-rich surface is promoted by a higher drying rate and a water-rich catalyst ink. In contrast, a 1-propanol catalyst ink leads to a lower concentration of ionomer on the top surface. Using x-ray computed tomography, we are able to characterize the ionomer distribution throughout the thickness of the layer. We find that, in addition to promoting an ionomer-rich top surface, water-rich inks lead to a more homogenous distribution of ionomer, whereas a 1-propanol-rich ink leads to a more irregular distribution. It is found that MEA performance is improved by selecting conditions and ink formulations that promote ionomer enrichment at the top surface to facilitate a good interface with the membrane. MEAs prepared with a 75 wt% water catalyst ink with a 0.9 I/C have equivalent performance to spray-coated GDEs. Critically, these R2R-coated GDEs do not need an additional ionomer overlayer like the spray-coated GDEs do, reducing the number of processing steps in a manufacturing setting. This work shows that with the appropriate selection of materials, ink formulation, and processing conditions gas-diffusion electrodes are a viable pathway for fuel cell manufacturing.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePresented at the PRiME/236th ECS Meeting, 6 October 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5900-76952


  • fuel cells
  • roll to roll


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