Seminar -"Multiscale, Multi-phase Modelling of Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells", by Marc Secanell


Wednesday, April 24th, 2019. Time: 12h.

Place: O.C. Zienkiewicz Conference Room, C1 Building, UPC Campus Nord, Barcelona


Zero-emission polymer electrolyte fuel cell vehicles, such as the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, have demonstrated all the performance attributes that customers expect, such as long range, fast re-fuelling and cold start. However, fuel cells are still too costly to enable their successful commercialization. One of the major contributors to fuel cell costs is the platinum used inside the fuel cell electrodes. In order to reduce the cost of fuel cells, it is imperative to improve their power density. This can be achieved by designing new materials that allow the fuel cell to operate at higher current density by quickly and efficiently removing the liquid water form inside the electrode.

In this research seminar, an introduction to polymer electrolyte fuel cells will be provided, followed by an overview of the current research efforts being undertaken by our research group in the area of multi-scale, multi-phase flow. Three two-phase flow numerical models will be discussed: a) pore-scale models, i.e., sub-micron-scale; b) cell-level, volume-average models, i.e., micron-scale; and c) channel models, i.e., mm-scale. In order to analyze pore-scale models, a full morphology model is used to invade the pore structure which is obtained from tomographic images [1,2]. To analyze cell-level simulations, Darcy’s law is used to study the transport of gas and liquid phases, and then a closure model based on the pore size distribution of the porous material is used to estimate local saturation and other transport properties, including evaporation [3]. Finally, to simulate droplets in fuel cell channels, a Lagrangian-Eulerian framework, including surface tension, is used. Pore-scale and cell-scale models are implemented in the open source software OpenFCST,, while the channel model in implemented in Kratos multiphysics.

[1] M Sabharwal, LM Pant, A Putz, D Susac, J Jankovic, M Secanell. Analysis of catalyst layer microstructures: From imaging to performance, Fuel Cells 16 (6), 734-753, 2016.

[2] M Sabharwal, JT Gostick, M Secanell. Virtual liquid water intrusion in fuel cell gas diffusion media, Journal of The Electrochemical Society 165 (7), F553-F563, 2018.

[3] J Zhou, A Putz, M Secanell, A Mixed Wettability Pore Size Distribution Based Mathematical Model for Analyzing Two-Phase Flow in Porous Electrodes I. Mathematical Model, Journal of The Electrochemical Society 164 (6), F530-F539, 2017.

[4] A Jarauta, P Ryzhakov, J Pons-Prats, M Secanell, An implicit surface tension model for the analysis of droplet dynamics, Journal of Computational Physics 374, 1196-1218, 2018.

Marc Secanell

Marc Secanell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, Canada, and the director of the Energy Systems Design Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria, Canada, in 2008 and 2004, respectively. He holds a B.Eng. degree (2002) from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech). In 2008, he was an Assistant Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada, Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver, Canada and in 2015-16 he was a visiting research scholar in the Energy Conversion Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US.

His research interests are in the areas of: a) analysis and computational design of energy systems, such as polymer electrolyte fuel cells, polymer electrolyzers, flywheels and cooling towers, b) fabrication and characterization of polymer electrolyte fuel cells and electrolyzers, c) finite element analysis, and d) multidisciplinary design optimization. His current research projects include the development of the Open-source Fuel Cell Simulation Toolbox (OpenFCST –, an open-source framework to analyze fuel cells, the development of mathematical models and optimization strategies for cooling towers and high-speed composite flywheels, and on the fabrication and characterization of low loading polymer electrolyte fuel cells, and high-speed composite flywheels. Within OpenFCST, his group is developing mathematical models for studying: a) multi-step electrochemical reactions, b) multi-component gas transport in porous media, c) multi-phase transport models in porous media; and, d) stochastic reconstruction and simulation of porous materials. He has authored 39 journal articles, 29 conference proceedings and two book chapters receiving over 1,000 citations (h-index: 20 in Google Scholar). He has been an invited speaker at prestigious conferences such as the Electrochemical Society Meeting and the Gordon Research Conference in Fuel Cells. He has received several awards including the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) Early Accomplishment Award (2013) and a Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Canada Scholarship (2007).

Dr. Secanell has taught courses in thermo-fluid systems, energy conversion and numerical simulation. He has supervised over 40 graduate and undergraduate students and has been the Faculty advisor for the University of Alberta EcoCar team since its inception in 2010. Currently, he supervises a sub-group of EcoCar team members that is building a fuel cell stack.