Holistic approach to chemical degradation of Nafion membranes in fuel cells: Modelling and predictions

Philipp Frühwirt, Ambrož Kregar, Jens T. Törring, Tomaž Katrašnik, Georg Gescheidt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The state of health of polyfluorinated sulfonic-acid ionomer membranes (e.g. Nafion®) in low-temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cells (LT-PEMFCs) is negatively influenced by degradation phenomena occurring during their operation. As a consequence, the performance and durability of the membrane are decreased. In this article, we focus on simulating and predicting chemical membrane degradation phenomena using a holistic zero-dimensional kinetic framework. The knowledge of chemical degradation mechanisms is widely spread. We have collected and evaluated an extensive set of chemical mechanisms to achieve a holistic approach. This yields a set of 23 coupled chemical equations, which provide the whole cause and effect chain of chemical degradation in LT-PEMFCs (based on the Fenton reaction between Fe2+ and H2O2via the attack of hydroxyl radicals on the membrane, loss of ionomer moieties and emission of fluoride). Our kinetic framework allows the reproduction of experimentally accessible data such as fluoride emission rates and concentrations of ionomer moieties (from both in situ and ex situ tests). We present an approach, which allows estimations of the membrane lifetime based on fluoride emission rates. In addition, we outline the demetallation of Fe-N-C catalysts as a source of additional harmful iron species, which accelerate chemical membrane degradation. To demonstrate the expandability and versatility of the kinetic framework, a set of five chemical equations describing the radical scavenging properties of cerium agents is coupled to the main framework and its influence on membrane degradation is analysed. An automated solving routine for the system of coupled chemical equations on the basis of the chemical kinetic simulation tool COPASI has been developed and is freely accessible online (http://ptc-pc-139.tugraz.at/cgi-bin/Membrane_Degradation/).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5647-5666
Number of pages20
JournalPhysical Chemistry, Chemical Physics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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