Microindentation Test for Assessing the Mechanical Properties of Silicone Rubber Exposed to a Simulated Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell Environment

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The elastomeric materials used as seals and gaskets in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells are exposed to acidic environment, humid air, and hydrogen, and subjected to mechanical compressive load. The long-term mechanical and chemical stability of these materials is critical to both sealing and the electrochemical performance of the fuel cell. In this paper, mechanical degradation of two elastomeric materials, Silicone S and Silicone G, which are potential gasket materials for PEM fuel cells, was investigated. Test samples were subjected to various compressive loads to simulate the actual loading in addition to soaking in a simulated PEM fuel cell environment. Two temperatures, 80°C and 60°C, were selected and used in this study. Mechanical properties of the samples before and after exposure to the environment were studied by microindentation. Indentation load, elastic modulus, and hardness were obtained from the loading and unloading curves. Indentation deformation was studied using Hertz contact model. Dynamic mechanical analysis was conducted to verify the elastic modulus obtained by Hertz contact model. It was found that the mechanical properties of the samples changed considerably after exposure to the simulated environment over time. The temperature and the applied compressive load play a significant role in the mechanical degradation. The microindentation method is proved to provide a simple and efficient way to evaluate the mechanical properties of gasket materials.