Topology optimization as a powerful tool to design advanced PEMFCs flow fields

Reza Behrou (Corresponding author), Alberto Pizzolato, Antoni Forner-Cuenca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


This paper presents a thorough and affordable numerical framework to design the flow field of Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells using topology optimization. No assumption is made about the layout of the channels, which freely evolves along the optimization process, resulting in non-trivial optimized geometries. The optimization problem is formulated to maximize both the power generation and homogeneity of current density distribution, in the spirit of reduced costs and increased durability. The evolution of the flow field geometry is computed with a gradient-based optimizer with gradients of the objective and constraints computed through the discrete adjoint method. At each optimization iteration, the incompressible Navier-Stokes, advection-diffusion, and Butler-Volmer equations are solved with a 2D finite element model that predicts the flow in the channels, transport of chemical species and electrochemical reactions. The 3D transport effects are accounted for in the 2D model through an original depth-averaging procedure. The results of the 2D prediction are verified against a full 3D model calibrated using numerical and experimental results. The developed design framework can be used to identify flow field layouts that outperform current industrial solutions, catch design trends and provide guidelines to technology practitioners. The topology-optimized designs yield significant power generation enhancements, an improved reactant distribution and a reduced pressure drop as compared to conventional flow fields. Increasing the inlet pressure leads to more and more intricate configurations with complex topologies and highly tortuous channels. However, the cell performance is found to be more sensitive to the topology of the flow distributor at low rather than at high inlet pressures. Considering a measure of the current density homogeneity in the optimization objective allows the identification of layouts in which the gas channels concentrate close to the outlets rather than close to the inlet. These design features slightly affect the amount of power generated, suggesting a viable route for future technological development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-92
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Adjoint sensitivity
  • Fuel cell
  • Gas flow channel
  • Homogenized current density
  • Maximized output power
  • Topology optimization


Dive into the research topics of 'Topology optimization as a powerful tool to design advanced PEMFCs flow fields'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this