Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) generally have external humidifiers to supply humidified hydrogen and oxidant gases, which prevents dehydration of the membrane. If a PEFC could be operated without humidification, then external humidifiers could be removed, which would result in a simplified PEFC system with increased total efficiency and reduced cost. A water vapor exchange system installed in the PEFC was developed to enhance the performance without cathode humidification. A gas diffusion layer (GDL) coated with a hydrophobic microporous layer (MPL) was used at the active reaction area. A GDL coated with a hydrophilic MPL consisting of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and carbon black was used at the cathode water vapor exchange area to promote water transport from the cathode outlet wet gas to the anode inlet dry gas. This is effective for reducing the IR overpotential, which enhances the PEFC performance. Appropriate enhancement of hydrophilicity by increasing the PVA content in the MPL to 20 mass% is effective to increase water transport from the cathode to anode. At the anode water exchange area, a GDL without the hydrophilic MPL is effective to promote water transport from the water exchange area to the active reaction area, which enhances the PEFC performance.
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