The detachment of liquid droplets from porous material surfaces used with proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells under the influence of a cross-flowing air is investigated computationally and experimentally. CCD images taken on a purpose-built transparent fuel cell have revealed that the water produced within the PEM is forming droplets on the surface of the gas-diffusion layer. These droplets are swept away if the velocity of the flowing air is above a critical value for a given droplet size. Static and dynamic contact angle measurements for three different carbon gas-diffusion layer materials obtained inside a transparent air-channel test model have been used as input to the numerical model; the latter is based on a Navier–Stokes equations flow solver incorporating the volume of fluid (VOF) two-phase flow methodology. Variable contact angle values around the gas–liquid–solid contact-line as well as their dynamic change during the droplet shape deformation process, have allowed estimation of the adhesion force between the liquid droplet and the solid surface and successful prediction of the separation line at which droplets loose their contact from the solid surface under the influence of the air stream flowing around them. Parametric studies highlight the relevant importance of various factors affecting the detachment of the liquid droplets from the solid surface.

Keywords: Water droplet detachment, Carbon gas-diffusion layer, Fuel cell, Modelling