Bipolar plates for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells are currently under development. These plates separate individual cells of the fuel cell stack, and thus must be sufficiently strong to support clamping forces, be electrically conducting, be fitted with flow channels for stack thermal control, be of a low permeability material to separate safely hydrogen and oxygen feed streams, be corrosion resistant, and be fitted with distribution channels to transfer the feed streams over the plate surface. To date, bipolar plate costs dominate stack costs, and therefore future materials need to meet strict cost targets.
A first step in the bipolar plate development program is an assessment of design constraints. Such constraints have been estimated and evaluated and are discussed here. Conclusions point to promising advanced materials, such as conductive, corrosion resistant coatings on metal substrates, as candidates for mass production of fuel cell bipolar plates. Possible candidate materials are identified, and testing procedures developed to determine suitability of various materials.