Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Micro and Nanoscale Systems

First Advisor

Scott A. Gold


With the increasing consumption of energy, fuel cells are among the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels, provided some technical challenges are overcome. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have been investigated and improvements have been made, but the problem with Nafion®, the main membrane for PEMFCs, has not been solved. Nafion® restricts the membranes from operating at higher temperatures, thus preventing them from working in small electronics. The problem is to develop a novel fuel cell membrane that performs comparably to Nafion® in PEMFCs.

The membranes were fabricated by applying sulfated zirconia, via template wetting, to porous alumina membranes. The fabricated membranes showed a proton conductivity of 0.016 S/cm in comparison to the proton conductivity of Nafion ® (0.05 S/cm). Both formic acid and methanol had a lower crossover flux through the sulfated zirconia membranes (formic acid- 2.89x10 -7 mols/cm2s and methanol-1.78x10-9 mols/cm2s) than through Nafion® (formic acid-2.03x10 -8 mols/cm2s methanol-2.42x10-6 mols/cm 2s), indicating that a sulfated zirconia PEMFC may serve as a replacement for Nafion®.