The mechanical durability of hydrocarbon (HC) membranes, used for polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs), was evaluated by the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) stress protocol involving wet-dry cycling, and the degradation mechanism is discussed. The HC membrane ruptured in the edge region of the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) after 300 cycles due to a concentration of the mechanical stress. Post-test analysis of stress-strain measurements revealed that the membrane mechanical strain decreased more than 80% in the edge region of the MEA and about 50% in the electrode region, compared with the pristine condition. Size exclusion chromatography (SEC) indicated that the average molecular weight of the HC polymer increased slightly, indicating some cross-linking, while the IEC decreased slightly, indicating ionomer degradation. As a result of two types of modifications, a sub-gasket (SG) and a soft gas diffusion layer (GDL) in the MEA edge region, the mechanical stress decreased, and the durability increased, the membrane lasting more than 30,000 cycles without mechanical failure.
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