Optimization of a permeation-based microfluidic direct formic acid fuel cell (DFAFC)

Evan M. Erickson, Svetlana M. Mitrovski, Andrew A. Gewirth, Ralph G. Nuzzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A design for a passive, air-breathing microfluidic fuel cell utilizing formic acid (FA) as a fuel is described and its performance characterized. The fuel cell integrates high surface area platinum (cathode) and palladium-platinum (anode) alloy electrodes within a PDMS microfluidic network that keeps them fully immersed in a liquid electrolyte. The polymer network that comprises the device also serves as a self-supporting membrane through which FA and oxygen are supplied to the alloy anode and cathode, respectively, by passive permeation from external sources. The cell is based on a planar form-factor and in its operation exploits FA concentration gradients that form across the PDMS membrane. These latter gradients allow the device to operate stably, producing a nearly constant limiting power density of ∼0.2mW/cm2, without driven laminar flow of fluids or the incorporation of an in-channel separator between the anodic and the cathodic compartments. The power output of this elementary device in air is subject to electrolyte mass transport impacts, which can be reduced for a given design rule by decreasing the internal ohmic resistance of the cell. The results suggest that operational stability can be improved by decreasing the kinetic losses imposed on the cathode side of the cell due to FA crossover and modalities for doing so, such as by increasing the efficiency of fuel capture at the anode.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)947-956
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • FA
  • Fuel cell
  • Microfludic
  • Passive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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