Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Cathode Enhancement Through a Vacuum-assisted Infiltration


Materials & Systems Research Inc.

Award Number:  SC0006374
Project Duration:  07/08/2011 – 08/07/2015
Total Award Value:  $1,150,000.00
DOE Share:  $1,150,000.00
Performer Share:  $0.00
Technology Area:  Advanced Energy Systems
Key Technology: 

Project Description

Currently, composite cathodes are formed by directly mixing the active cathode material with electrolyte at different ratios, followed by deposition and sintering into graded functional layers. Since the effectiveness of the composite cathode (the cathode is the electrode at which oxygen ions are removed from the air supply) greatly depends on the composite microstructure and intrinsic material properties, solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) cell fabrication processes must be engineered to ensure the electrode micro-structural characteristics have continuous phases, open and continuous pores, well-linked (sintered) cathode particles, and a long triple phase boundary.

This project will develop a cost-effective vacuum-pressure infiltration thermal treatment (VPIT) technique to improve SOFC cathode performance and longevity through the impregnation of an inexpensive electro-catalyst precursor into a cathode backbone. Upon calcination (a thermal treatment process) at reduced temperatures, a thin but continuous network of nano-sized catalysts is formed, covering the cathode backbone with enlarged catalytic surface area and heterogeneous microstructure. This enhances both the oxygen exchange rate and oxygen ion transport rate on the cathode surface. The reduced temperature calcination will greatly improve the stability of the cathode.

In Phase I, the vacuum-assisted infiltration apparatus and the infiltration protocol will be developed and validated using two sizes of cell test apparatus: button cells and short stacks with 100 square centimeters per-cell active areas. Catalyst distribution and morphology will be investigated via advanced X-ray diffraction and radiographic techniques. Phase II will support manufacturing scale-up to meet cost goals, and will include kilowatt-scale stack validation.

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.

Materials & Systems Research, Inc. will work to enhance solid oxide fuel cell performance through the infiltration of active nano-catalysts into cathode backbones, while leveraging well-established solid oxide fuel cell fabrication techniques for a scaling-up a proof-of-concept demonstration. The team will develop a vacuum infiltration process for adding catalysts to solid oxide fuel cell cathodes. The infiltration apparatus and protocol will be developed. Success will be validated in button cell and short stack testing. If successful, fuel cell performance and cost would be improved helping to commercialize a technology capable of generating electricity very efficiently with near-zero emissions.

Contact Information

Federal Project Manager 
Joseph Stoffa:
Technology Manager 
Shailesh Vora:
Principal Investigator 

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