Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical Engineering

Major Professor

Feng-Yuan Zhang

Committee Members

Lloyd M. Davis, Matthew M. Mench, Zhili Zhang


Hydrogen is a ‘zero-emission’ energy carrier, which could be an important part of environment-friendly solutions to the global energy crisis via energy storage without producing greenhouse gases. The proton exchange membrane electrolyzer cell (PEMEC) is one of the most practical and energy efficient methods for producing high purity hydrogen from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro and solar energy. Since the wide commercialization of PEMECs is still hindered by their performance, cost and durability, superior performance PEMECs with low-cost and high-efficiency are strongly desired. The membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which consists of liquid/gas diffusion layers (LGDLs), catalyst layers (CLs) and membrane, is the core component of the PEMECs. LGDLs play an important role in enhancing the performance of PEMECs. They are expected to transport electrons, heat, and reactants/products simultaneously with minimum electrical, thermal, interfacial, and fluidic losses. CLs are mainly formed by noble metals or their oxides, which has great impact on PEMEC performance, durability and cost. The objective of this research is to develop novel MEAs coupled with the titanium-based thin/tunable LGDLs (TT-LGDLs) that has the well-controlled pore morphologies. The main achievements of this research include: (a) The TT-LGDLs can achieve superior performance due to the remarkably reduced ohmic and activation losses, and the effects of pore morphologies have been identified. (b) The gold electroplating is a promising method for the PEMEC performance enhancement by surface modifications. (c) The microporous layers (MPLs) offer some improved PEMEC performance under specific conditions, but may not be required for optimum TT-LGDLs. (d) The novel GDEs with ultra-low Pt catalyst loadings have been developed, which has obtained an acceptable performance with a significantly improved catalyst mass activity. (e) The theoretical analysis is adopted to study the true electrochemical reaction mechanism in PEMECs, and a model is developed, which is used to simulate the PEMEC performance and optimize the parameters of the electrodes. The novel thin MEAs developed in this research point out a promising direction for future MEA development, and can be a guide for the high-efficiency and large scale energy storage.

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