New Research Directions for Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Science and Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

The efficient generation of electrical power is a high priority for the developed world in order to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thus mitigate the effects of global warming. Fuel cells offer the promise of increased generation efficiency in applications encompassing large (> 1MW) stationary electrical power, small (< 10 kW) Combined Heat and Power units for applications such as domestic use, and transport (road vehicles, ships, trains and aircraft). Of the many fuel cell types, Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) have the greatest flexibility in fuel type. They can work efficiently with existing hydrocarbon fossil fuels and carbon-neutral alternatives (such as bio-ethanol) and in addition they are easily fuelled by hydrogen, compatible with the introduction of the hydrogen economy. There is strong research and development interest in SOFCs world wide and the companies developing them have achieved impressive technical success. However, commercialisation on a large scale remains elusive and the key barriers are recognised to be durability and cost (to which contribute: performance, materials, manufacturing and system simplicity, especially with regard to running on practical carbon-containing fuels).Through this Platform Grant, the SOFC team at Imperial College aims to build on its past success in this field and explore new directions to address some of the fundamental issues underlying the problems of performance and durability of SOFCs. The thrust of the work is to build capability in new approaches and techniques which will be developed and assessed for their ability to improve knowledge of the underpinning science and engineering. The most promising avenues will then be expanded into focused individual research projects outside the Platform Grant. An integrated approach to the multi-scale modelling (from atoms to systems) of SOFCs will be initiated so that new materials or designs can be identified and their overall impact assessed without having to build complete systems. New techniques will be developed to interrogate working SOFCs and components (in order to understand more details of the electrochemical reactions taking place) and the complex microstructures of the porous composite materials that are used as electrodes. These will be supplemented by advances in techniques to study electrical and mass transport in the materials and across interfaces within, or between, them. The information will be used to guide the development of materials and structures with improved performance and durability (long term ageing, thermo-mechanical stability and simpler operation with carbon-containing fuels). In addition a new application area for SOFCs will be explored, namely: micro-engineered SOFCs for low power applications, such as electronic devices.These goals will be pursued through collaborations with leading international research groups in the UK, Europe, USA and Japan and with the UK SOFC industry.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Brett DJ (2008) Intermediate temperature solid oxide fuel cells. in Chemical Society reviews

publication icon
Cumming D (2011) Structural properties of Ce-doped strontium titanate for fuel cell applications in Journal of Materials Chemistry

 
Description The efficient generation of electrical power is a high priority for the developed world in order to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thus mitigate the effects of global warming. Fuel cells offer the promise of increased generation efficiency in applications encompassing large (> 1MW) stationary electrical power, small (< 10 kW) Combined Heat and Power units for applications such as domestic use, and transport (road vehicles, ships, trains and aircraft). Of the many fuel cell types, Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) have the greatest flexibility in fuel type. They can work efficiently with existing hydrocarbon fossil fuels and carbon-neutral alternatives (such as bio-ethanol) and in addition they are easily fuelled by hydrogen, compatible with the introduction of the hydrogen economy. There is strong research and development interest in SOFCs world-wide and the companies developing them have achieved impressive technical success. However, commercialisation on a large scale remains elusive and the key barriers are recognised to be durability and cost (to which contribute: performance, materials, manufacturing and system simplicity, especially with regard to running on practical carbon-containing fuels).

Through this Platform Grant, the SOFC team at Imperial College has explored new directions to address some of the fundamental issues underlying the problems of performance and durability of SOFCs. The thrust of the work has been to maintain the core structure of the team and build capability in new approaches and techniques for improving knowledge of the underpinning science and engineering.

A major theme has been to explore new techniques for characterising fuel cell materials with particular emphasis on in situ studies under realistic operating conditions. We have exploited national and international central facilities for neutron diffraction and synchrotron radiation to enable this. On the laboratory scale we have undertaken proof of concept experiments in the application of Raman spectroscopy to SOFC materials in situ with a particular focus on understanding degradation mechanisms such as sulphur poisoning and carbon deposition.

Another major theme has been to develop both ex-situ and in situ techniques for 3D characterisation of the microstructure of porous fuel cell electrodes and to use these in computer simulations of their properties. This has enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of how the microstructure affects the electrode performance and how this changes over long periods of cell operation.

More recently we have chosen to deploy some of the platform grant funding to explore applications of oxide ion materials outside of the domain of SOFC materials and into that of novel concepts around energy storage based on these materials. This work has resulted in a recent patent filing (P55723GB). This sort of higher risk, proof of concept research was only made possible through the flexibility of platform grant funding, allowing us to leverage our understanding of SOFC materials to create a novel high temperature metal-air battery.

Similarly, the platform grant has been used to initiate research on the constrained sintering of ceramic films, which is particularly important for the production of leak-free supported fuel cell electrolyte membranes as well as defect-free films in other applications, and atomic scale modelling of oxygen diffusion in potential new materials.

The Platform Grant has allowed us to undertake higher risk and more speculative experiments and analysis than would have been possible by conventional funding mechanisms. The most promising avenues have been expanded into focused individual research projects outside the Platform Grant with a diverse range of funding agencies (from the UK and internationally) and industry.
Exploitation Route This research is directly relevant to industrial applications in electricity generation, combined heat and power, hydrogen production, clean coal technology and energy storage. The results have enabled a wide range of follow-on projects funded by EPSRC, the European Framework Programme and industry in the areas of fuel cells, gas separation membranes, electrolysers and batteries.
Sectors Energy

 
Description Supported 19 different individual researchers and 2 research officers during gaps in their funding from other sources which enabled the team to maintain its critical size. This also enabled the team to leverage the Platform funding and resulted in obtaining a total of £14.8m from a variety of sources, including EPSRC, STFC, EU and international commercial enterprises over the grant period.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Energy
Impact Types Economic

 
Description EU Framework
Amount £180,750 (GBP)
Funding ID 256885 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2013
 
Description EU Framework
Amount £199,870 (GBP)
Funding ID 325278 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2013 
End 10/2017
 
Description Laboratory refurbishment
Amount £286,100 (GBP)
Organisation The Wolfson Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2008 
End 01/2009
 
Description Supergen
Amount £366,747 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/G030995/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2009 
End 02/2014
 
Description UK/India collaboration
Amount £154,570 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I037016/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 02/2015
 
Description Ceres Power 
Organisation Ceres Power
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Guidance on improvement of fuel cell performance
Collaborator Contribution Details of requirements for better performance and supply of materials.
Impact Improved electrode performance, improved electrolyte quality and reliability.
 
Description Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems Ltd 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc
Department Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Evaluation of new and existing materials for fuel cells
Collaborator Contribution Guidance for required improvements in performance and supply of materials and designs.
Impact Improvements to performance and reliability of fuel cell technology
Start Year 2007