The paper presents the results of an optimization study of an automotive fuel cell propulsion system equipped with a fuel reformer. Based on a set of fuel cell polarization curves determined experimentally by running a prototype fuel cell stack at a variety of operating pressures and temperatures, a numerical steady state model was used to determine the optimal operating pressure and temperature. The optimization criteria were the size of individual components and the entire propulsion system as well as its total efficiency at both full power and partial load. The results suggested that an automotive system should be operated at relatively high pressure (308 kPa), but an expander must be used to recover most of the power used for compression. A surprising result of this analysis is that a relatively low temperature (∼60°C) results in smallest heat rejection equipment if neutral water balance is mandated. The efficiency of the system is about 33% at full power and about 38% at 25% of the load. Higher efficiencies may be achieved by selecting a higher fuel cell operating voltage, but that would result in larger fuel cell stacks, which may be a limiting factor for automotive application with the state-of-the-art fuel cells.

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