Project No: FE0009084
Performer: University of Maryland


Shailesh Vora
Technology Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
626 Cochrans Mill Road
P.O. Box 10940, MS 922-204
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-0940
(412) 386-7515

Joseph Stoffa
Project Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
3610 Collins Ferry Road
P.O. Box 880, MS PO3B
Morgantown, WV 26507-0880
(304) 285-0285

Eric Wachsman
Principal Investigator
University of Maryland
Energy Research Center
College Park, MD 20742
(301) 405-8193

Award Date:  09/01/2012
Project Date:  08/31/2015

DOE Share: $500,000.00
Performer Share: $125,000.00
Total Award Value: $625,000.00

Performer website: University of Maryland -

Advanced Energy Systems - Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Mechanistic Enhancement of SOFC Cathode Durability

Project Description

The University of Maryland (UMD) project is a multi-faceted fundamental investigation of the effects of contaminants on cathode degradation mechanisms in order to establish cathode composition/structures and operational conditions to enhance cathode durability. The results will be used to develop hypotheses that explain the microstructural and compositional cathode performance degradation mechanisms and mitigation strategies. Phenomenological models will be developed concurrently to describe the role of architectural and operational variables on cathode performance and stability. These will result in the formation of design criteria that will be validated experimentally in terms of electrochemical performance stability in the targeted contaminant containing air in long-term tests.

Program Background and Project Benefits

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is developing the next generation of efficient fossil fuel technologies capable of producing affordable electric power with near-zero emissions. The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) program at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is focused on developing low-cost, highly efficient SOFC power systems that are capable of simultaneously producing electric power, from either natural gas or coal, with carbon capture capabilities. Research is directed towards the technologies that are critical to the commercialization of SOFC technology. To successfully complete the development of SOFC technology from the present state to the point of commercial readiness, the SOFC Program efforts are aligned into three Key Technologies:

(1) Anode, Cathode, and Electrolyte (AEC) Development
(2) Atmospheric Pressure Systems
(3) Pressurized Systems

The AEC Development Key Technology is R&D in nature whereas the other two, Atmospheric Pressure Systems and Pressurized Systems, are focused on the development, demonstration, and deployment of SOFC power systems.

The AEC Development Key Technology consists of projects that will lead to substantially improved power density, enhanced performance, reduced degradation rate, and more reliable and robust systems. Research is focused on the technologies critical to the commercialization of SOFC technology, such as cathode performance, gas seals, interconnects, failure analysis, coal contaminants, fuel processing, and balance-of-plant components. Research is conducted at universities, national laboratories, small businesses, and other R&D organizations.

This project focuses on investigating the effects of contaminants on cathode degradation mechanisms in order to establish cathode composition and structures and operational conditions to enhance cathode durability. Improved cell/stack life and performance will reduce operating cost and increase efficiency, resulting in reduction in the cost of electricity and reduction of CO2 emissions from the entire platform. Specifically, this project will determine the mechanistic effects of H2O and Cr vapor, CO2, and particulates on cathode durability, quantify microstructural and compositional changes, and determine the surface exchange mechanisms and coefficients using in-situ isotope exchange of labeled contaminants.

Project Scope and Technology Readiness Level

This work will quantify the effect of real-world air contaminants on solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) cathodes, and then propose testable modifications to the cathode structure that enhance contaminant resistance while maintaining desirous properties. Using a dual focused ion beam/scanning electron microscope approach, UMD will quantify in three dimensions (3-D) the microstructural changes of cathode samples, both standardized and from each of the SECA Industry Teams. This includes changes in triple-phase boundary density, phase connectivity, and tortuosity (a metric related to diffusivity). Heterogeneous catalysis methods will be used to elucidate the cathode oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) mechanism and determine how contaminants affect the ORR as a function of temperature, time, and composition, and will use an integrated in-situ system that allows simultaneous 18O-isotope exchange and electro-analytical characterization of button cells under applied current/voltage conditions.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) assessment identifies the current state of readiness of the key technologies being developed under the DOE’s Clean Coal Research Program. In FY 12, this project was not assessed.

The TRL assessment process and its results including definition and description of the levels may be found in the "2012 Technology Readiness Assessment-Analysis of Active Research Portfolio".