July 7, 2022
Bipolar Plates for PEM Fuel Cells
Bipolar Plates for PEM Fuel Cells


Bipolar plates (BPs) are a key component of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells with multifunctional character. They uniformly distribute fuel gas and air, conduct electrical current from cell to cell, remove heat from the active area, and prevent leakage of gases and coolant. BPs also significantly contribute to the volume, weight and cost of PEM fuel cell stacks. Hence, there are vigorous efforts worldwide to find suitable materials for BPs. The materials include non-porous graphite, coated metallic sheets, polymer composites, etc. This paper reviews various types of materials, in use and proposed, for BPs and critically examines their physical and chemical properties.

The bipolar plates are in weight and volume the major part of the PEM fuel cell stack, and are also a significant contributor to the stack costs. The bipolar plate is therefore a key component if power density has to increase and costs must come down. Three cell plate technologies are expected to reach targeted cost price levels, all having specific advantages and drawbacks. NedStack has developed a conductive composite materials and a production process for fuel cell plates (bipolar and mono-polar). The material has a high electric and thermal conductivity, and can be processed into bipolar plates by a proprietary molding process. Process cycle time has been reduced to less than 10 s, making the material and process suitable for economical mass production. Other development work to increase material efficiency resulted in thin bipolar plates with integrated cooling channels, and integrated seals, and in two-component bipolar plates. Total thickness of the bipolar plates is now less than 3 mm, and will be reduced to 2 mm in the near future. With these thin integrated plates it is possible to increase power density up to 2 kW/l and 2 kW/kg, while at the same time reducing cost by integrating other functions and less material use.

The polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) based fuel cells are clean alternative energy systems that hold excellent potential for cost effectiveness, durability, and relatively high overall efficiency. PEM fuel cell is recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as the main candidate to replace the internal combustion engine in transportation applications. Metallic bipolar plates and membrane electrode assembly (MEA) are two crucial components of a PEM power stack and their durability and fabrication cost must be optimized to allow fuel cells to penetrate the commercial market and compete with other energy sources.

The bipolar plates perform as the current conductors between cells, provide conduits for reactant gases flow, and constitute the backbone of a power stack. They are commonly made of graphite composite for high corrosion resistance and good surface contact resistance; however their manufacturability, permeability, and durability for shock and vibration are unfavorable in comparison to metals. On the other hand, various methods and techniques must be developed to combat metallic corrosion and eliminate the passive layer that causes unacceptable reduction in contact resistance and possible fouling of the catalyst and the ionomer. Thus recently metallic bipolar plates have received considerable attention in the research community. This paper offers a comprehensive review of the research work conducted on metal bipolar plates to prevent corrosion while maintaining a low contact resistance.