Gas Diffusion Layers with Patterned Wettability

During PEFC’s operation the reactant gas is fed to the cell through the gas diffusion layer (GDL) and through the same material the product water is removed. Water accumulation near the catalyst can block the gas access causing an increase of the mass transport losses. On the other hand, PEFC’s work with a solid electrolyte membrane that needs to be hydrated in order to be proton conductive. In order to obtain the maximum performance PEFC’s required a well-balanced water management.

Gas and water are transported in counter flow through the GDL forming stochastically distributed pathways. To improve water transport, which is mostly driven by capillary forces, the most common strategy is to hydrophobize the GDL using a fluoropolymer, coating. This technique helps reducing water accumulation in the GDL. To further improve water management our group has developed a technology (patent pending) to create local hydrophilic and hydrophobic domains in GDL’s. By chemically modifying the coating on selected areas a hydrophilic region is created, the water is preferentially transported through these regions leaving a free path for the gas transport.

The addition of the pattern wettability improves the performance of the cell, particularly at high current densities. Using operando neutron imaging it can be seen that the water accumulates preferentially on the hydrophilic regions proving the effectiveness of the pattern.

  • Full flexibility in the pattern design
  • No mechanical damage on the GDL
  • Economically feasible, compatible with roll-to-roll manufacturing processes


  • Forner-Cuenca A, Biesdorf J, Gubler L, Kristiansen PM, Schmidt TJ, Boillat P
    Engineered water highways in fuel cells: radiation grafting of gas diffusion layers
    Advanced Materials. 2015; 27(41): 6317-6322.


  • Forner-Cuenca A, Biesdorf J, Lamibrac A, Manzi-Orezzoli V, Büchi FN, Gubler L, et al.
    Advanced water management in PEFCs: diffusion layers with patterned wettability. II. measurement of capillary pressure characteristic with neutron and synchrotron imaging
    Journal of the Electrochemical Society. 2016; 163(9): F1038-F1048.


  • Forner-Cuenca A, Biesdorf J, Manzi-Orezzoli V, Gubler L, Schmidt TJ, Boillat P
    Advanced water management in PEFCs: diffusion layers with patterned wettability. III. operando characterization with neutron imaging
    In: Savinell RF, ed. Vol. 163. Journal of the electrochemical society. sine loco: ECS; 2016:F1389-F1398.

Dr. Pierre Boillat
Electrochemistry Laboratory (LEC) and
Neutron Imaging and Activation Group (NIAG)
5232 Villigen PSI

Telephone: +41 56 310 2743
Fax +41 56 310 4415