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In order for a PEM fuel cell to operate, a Proton Exchange Membrane is needed that will carry the hydrogen ions, proton, from the anode to the cathode without passing the electrons that were removed from the hydrogen atoms. These polymer membranes that conduct proton through the membrane but are reasonably impermeable to the gases, serve as solid electrolytes (vs. liquid electrolyte) for variety of electrochemical applications, and are commonly known as Proton Exchange Membrane and/or Polymer Electrolyte Membranes (PEM). These membranes have been identified as one of the key components for various consumer related applications for fuel cells, e.g. automobiles, back-up power, portable power etc. Due to its application for many consumer markets, the technology keeps on evolving to make these membranes suitable for longer duration, and even high temperature operations.
For PEM fuel cell and electrolyzer applications, a polymer electrolyte membrane is sandwiched between an anode electrode and a cathode electrode. During electrochemical reaction, oxidation reaction at the anode generates protons and electrons; reduction reaction at the cathode combines protons and electrons with oxidants to generate water. To complete the electrochemical reaction, the proton exchange membrane plays a critical role that conducts protons from anode to cathode through the membrane. The proton exchange membrane also performs as a separator for separating anode and cathode reactants in fuel cells and electrolyzers.
Whats is the Difference Between Cation and Anion Exchange Membranes?
Cation Exchange Membranes (CEM) that are based on fluorinated polymer and sulfonic acid groups are used as a major membrane for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC) because of their excellent proton conductivity and durability. On the other hand, Anion Exchange Membranes (AEM) that are based on quaternary ammonium groups and hydrocarbon polymer backbone have been considered to have low thermal durability and low OH- conductivity under the condition of the fuel cell.