Ionomer Optimization for Hydroxide-Exchange-Membrane Water Electrolyzers Operated with Distilled Water: A Modeling Study
The hydroxide-exchange-membrane water electrolyzer (HEMWE) is a promising means to store intermittent renewable energy in the form of hydrogen chemical energy. The hydroxide-exchange ionomer (HEI) in the gas-evolving electrodes and the hydroxide-exchange membrane (HEM) are key components of HEMWE. In this work, we simulate the cell and examine explicitly the impact of HEI and HEM properties with a focus on improving HEMWE performance when operated with distilled water (i.e., no supporting electrolyte). The tradeoff between the ionic conductivity gain and electrochemically active surface area (ECSA) loss is studied. For a constant catalyst loading, distributing more catalyst next to the HEM or making thinner but denser catalyst layer is beneficial for HEMWE performance. The results demonstrate that a higher water diffusion coefficient is desired for HEM to supply reactant water to the cathode. In contrast, a lower water diffusion coefficient is preferred for the cathode HEI to retain the water in the regions with high reaction rates. Overall, the findings provide important insights to optimizing HEI/HEM materials for improved HEMWE performance.