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Doping for societal and environmental benefits

Facilitating the “green transportation” is a major and an inevitable solution to have a substantial reduction in the amount of air pollutants and the emission of greenhouse gas footprints. The emergence of proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is a revolution in green-energy science. PEMFC converts hydrogen and oxygen gases into electricity with water as the only by-product.

Owing to its high efficiency and zero emission, PEMFC attracts the greatest interest as a clean energy device beyond petrol and diesel.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cell has been a successful substitute for internal combustion engines in the automobiles in the developed countries' future plans. Hence, the capacity to install fuel cells in the transport sectors has been grown significantly in the recent years.

Cars and trucks powered with proton exchange membrane fuel cell stacks have been understood to be the definitive solution to replace traditional fuel driven automobiles owing to their advantages such as no pollution, low temperature start-up and high energy density.

Bipolar plates traditionally made of graphite or composite materials are one of the core components in the PEMFC stack. Such designs have been criticized for owing to their limitations such as lack of strength and toughness, excessive weight, and hefty processing cost.

However, bipolar plates made of stainless steel have demonstrated excellent and comprehensive performance, low cost, and varied options for automobile applications. Nevertheless, the bipolar plates made of stainless steel are prone to corrosion and passivation in the aggressive PEMFC working environment, that eventually lead either to the reduction in efficiency or to the premature failure.

To prevent the corrosion of bipolar plates, many non-coating and coating technical routes of stainless-steel bipolar plates have been demonstrated. These includes regulating the substrate component, plasma-based or thermal nitriding, electroplating, ion plating, chemical vapor deposition, and physical vapor deposition, etc. Alternatively stainless-steel bipolar plates are coated with metal nitrides, polymers (through surface polymerization), and carbonaceous coatings, etc.

Either technology reduce the challenges concerning corrosion of stainless steel without affecting the contact resistance to a significant extent. That is good news. However stainless-steel bipolar plates still face multiple challenges such as long-time stability under continuous operation, high cost and complexity in rolling them out into the mass production process.

Finding a suitable match that could meet the benchmark of graphite bipolar plates in terms of corrosion resistant, bringing down the hefty price in terms of manufacturing cost and easiness in managing weight are few but critical drawbacks of graphite BPP.

In contrary, carbon nanotubes comprise great functionalities such as mechanical strength, electrical conductivity, corrosive resistant, thermal stability, and durability altogether in a single system. Also carbon nanotubes improve fuel cell activity and give better proton exchange membrane fuel cell performance. Carbon nanotubes show excellent efficiency as they can be combined with other forms of carbon, for example, graphite to improve the mechanical and electrical properties of composite.