Recent advances in anode electrocatalysts for low-temperature PEM fuel cells are increasing tolerance for CO in the H2-rich anode stream. This study explores the impact of current day and future advances in CO-tolerant electrocatalysts on the system efficiency of low-temperature Nafion-based PEM fuel cell systems operating in conjunction with a hydrocarbon autothermal reformer and a preferential CO oxidation (PROx) reactor for CO clean-up. This study explores the effects of incomplete H2 cleanup by preferential oxidation reactors for partial CO removal, in combination with reformate-tolerant stacks. Empirical fuel cell performance models were based upon voltage-current characteristic from single-cell MEA tests at varying CO concentrations with new alloy reformate-tolerant electrocatalysts tested in conjunction with this study. A system-level model for a 5 kW maximum liquid-fueled system has been used to study the trade-offs between the improved performance with decreased CO concentration and the increased penalties from the air supply to the PROx reactor and associated reduction in H2 partial pressures to the anode. As CO tolerance is increased over current state-of-the-art Pt alloy catalysts system efficiencies improve due to higher fuel cell voltages. Furthermore, increasing CO tolerance of anode electrocatalysts allows for increased reformer efficiency by reducing PROx CO conversion requirements.

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