Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

First Advisor

Ramana M Pidaparti


Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have emerged as a strong and promising candidate to replace internal combustion engines (ICE) due their high efficiency, high power density and near-zero hazardous emissions. However, their commercialization waits for solutions to bring about significant cost-reductions and significant durability for given power densities. Bipolar plate (BPP) with its multi-faceted functions is one of the essential components of the PEMFC stacks. Stainless steel alloys are considered promising materials of choice for bipolar plate (BPP) applications in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) due to their relatively low cost and commercial availability in thin sheets. Stainless steel materials build a protective passive metal oxide layer on their surface against corrosion attack. This passive layer does not demonstrate good electrical conductivity and increases interfacial electric contact resistance (ICR) between BPP and gas diffusion layer GDL in PEMFC. Lower ICR values are desired to reduce parasitic power losses and increase current density in order to improve efficiency and power density of PEMFC. This study aimed to bring about a broader understanding of manufacturing effects on the BPP contact resistance. In first stage, BPP samples manufactured with stamping and hydroforming under different process conditions were tested for their electrical contact resistance characteristics to reveal the effect of manufacturing type and conditions. As a general conclusion, stamped BPPs showed higher contact conductivity than the hydroformed BPPs. Moreover, pressure in hydroforming and geometry had significant effects on the contact resistance behavior of BPPs. Short term corrosion exposure was found to decrease the contact resistance of bipolar plates. Results also indicated that contact resistance values of uncoated stainless steel BPPs are significantly higher than the respective target set by U.S. Department of Energy. Proper coating or surface treatments were found to be necessary to satisfy the requirements. In the second stage, physical vapor deposition technique was used to coat bipolar plates with CrN, TiN and ZrN coatings at 0.1, 0.5 and 1 μm coating thicknesses. Effects of different coatings and coating thickness parameters were studied as manufactured BPPs. Interfacial contact resistance tests indicated that CrN coating increased the contact resistance of the samples. 1 µm TiN coated samples showed the best performance in terms of low ICR; however, ICR increased dramatically after short term exposure to corrosion under PEMFC working conditions. ZrN coating also improved conductivity of the SS316L BPP samples. It was found that the effect of coating material and coating thickness was significant whereas the manufacturing method and BPP channel size slightly affected the ICR of the metallic BPP samples. Finally, effect of process sequence on coated BPPs was investigated. In terms of ICR, BPP samples which were coated prior to forming exhibited similar or even better performance than coated after forming samples. Thus, continuous coating of unformed stripes, then, applying forming process seemed to be favorable and worth further investigation in the quest of making cost effective BPPs for mass production of PEMFC.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2011

Included in

Engineering Commons