A polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell is formed with an improved system for distributing gaseous reactants to the membrane surface. A PEM fuel cell has an ionic transport membrane with opposed catalytic surfaces formed thereon and separates gaseous reactants that undergo reactions at the catalytic surfaces of the membrane. The fuel cell may also include a thin gas diffusion layer having first and second sides with a first side contacting at least one of the catalytic surfaces. A macroporous flow-field with interdigitated inlet and outlet reactant channels contacts the second side of the thin gas diffusion layer for distributing one of the gaseous reactants over the thin gas diffusion layer for transport to an adjacent one of the catalytic surfaces of the membrane. The porous flow field may be formed from a hydrophilic material and provides uniform support across the backside of the electrode assembly to facilitate the use of thin backing layers.
This invention relates to fuel cells and, more particularly, to polymer electrolyte fuel cells. This invention was made with government support under Contract No. W-7405-ENG-36 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The government has certain rights in the invention.