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NETL Demonstrates New Electrode Fabrication Technology on Durable Solid Oxide Fuel Cells
Concept art of a vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

NETL researchers have successfully demonstrated how the Lab’s patented electrode infiltration technology can be applied to electrode fabrication, marking a significant advancement in solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) research that may have positive implications for emerging electric transportation technologies, such as vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction. Every fuel cell has two electrodes — an anode and a cathode where electricity-producing chemical reactions take place. SOFC performance depends on that electrode catalytic activity and durability. One method that has been used to produce electrodes with high electrocatalytic activity and stability is solution infiltration — the depositing of nano-sized particles into the electrode’s porous microstructure.

The use of porous electrodes provides better control over the distribution of the reaction, transport of the active species, heat distribution, and in improving the efficiency and selectivity of the reaction.

NETL developed a single-step infiltration method that delivers electrocatalytically active material into the porous electrode microstructure. The method eliminates the need for the multiple heat-treatment steps required to deliver the optimal amount of catalyst materials into the porous electrode.

NETL experts applied its patented electrode infiltration technology to electrode fabrication on a porous electrolyte matrix, provided by industrial partner OxEon, and then subjected those cells to extensive long-term testing. Throughout this project, NETL successfully showcased its innovative, infiltration-based, scalable low-cost method for fabricating SOFC electrodes.

NETL’s Jian Liu, Ph.D., explained that a long-term test of one infiltration-made cell was carried out over 1,000 hours, achieving results that make the infiltration-based electrode fabrication strategy attractive for use in emerging SOFC technologies.

“Characterization through electron microscopy validated the quality of the electrode, marking a significant advancement in the application of our innovative electrode engineering technique for SOFCs,” Liu said.

SOFCs produced with the NETL approach can be put to use in the evolving development of eVOTL vehicles. Several companies are working to get eVTOLs in the sky with a goal of having electric aerial ride-sharing services to transport people from airports like John F. Kennedy or Newark Liberty to downtown Manhattan. Proponents of eVTOLs claim they will be more economical to operate, safer and quieter.

Development of the eVTOL technology depends greatly upon further developing battery technology to address concerns over the aircraft’s range and carrying capacity.

NETL’s success in fabricating and demonstrating advanced multilayer cathode microstructures onto on porous electrolyte matrix represents a step forward in efforts to refine SOFCs for use in these emerging technologies. This work was performed under a CRADA with OxEon Energy in support of an STTR project funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory under contract FA864922P0792.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.