Reinventing the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell: Towards 200C operation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Chemistry

Abstract

There is currently huge interest in the development of fuel cells as a result of their high efficiencies for converting chemical energy directly into electrical energy. The two systems attracting the most interest are polymer fuel cells (operating <100C) and Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (operating 500-1000C). The latter offer significant benefits in terms of fuel flexibility and cheaper (non-precious metal) electrode materials, but suffer from sealing/long term stability problems, as well as slow start up issues, associated with the high temperature operation. In this proposal we aim to target the development of solid oxide fuel cellls that operate at temperatures between 100-350C to overcome such issues. To this aim we will develop new proton conducting electrolytes that display high ionic conductivity in this temperature range, as well as electrode materials that operate with them. A key aim is to generate the proton conducting electrolyte in situ, under fuel cell operation, to allow a simplified cell production and operation.

Planned Impact

Fuel cells offer tremendous potential for improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with potential applications ranging from transport to stationary power generation. In particular, the development of low cost cells operating in the 100-400C range offers tremendous potential benefits, including allowing operation with less pure H2 fuels, and low cost electrode materials, mitigating the problems associated with currently widely researched polymer (<100C operation ) fuel cells and higher temperature (500-1000C) solid oxide fuel cells. As well as leading to wealth generation, this will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel usage, and so has substantial benefits for the environment and hence society in general. Fuel cell devices are also part of the Government's policy towards a low carbon economy, and hence the work is of relevance to the instigation of that policy. The development of fuel cells operating in the 100-400C gives a number of potential other applications including as auxillary power units for transport applications. Commercial beneficiaries of the research will thus be fuel cell/hydrogen production companies in the UK and worldwide. Considering the early stage of this feasibility study no companies have yet been informed or asked for support , but through our existing contacts within the H2 and Fuel Cell Hub, the Fuel Cells and their Fuels CDT, the ERA framework, relevant Technology Strategy Board's Knowledge Transfer Networks (Chemistry Innovation, Materials) there are strong routes to exploitation. In addition, work from the project will be promoted at a range of conferences/meetings where there is a strong industry presence, including the annual Birmingham organised NEC hydrogen and fuel cell meeting, the annual Materials KTN Materials Research Exchange meeting, as well as at West Midlands RIC Climate-KIC meetings. The demonstration of this novel strategy to exploit Li ion conducting electrolytes that have undergone proton-lithium exchange offers a large potential to make a major advance in this area in allowing access to a new temperature range for solid oxide fuel cell operation that will maintain their benefits, while mitigating their problems. In particular it will help the UK to lead a field, that has traditionally been dominated by the more commercially advanced solid oxide fuel cells exploiting an oxide ion conducting electrolyte.
The research team has a strong background in public engagement through activities at the Thinktank museum, local schools and science festivals. This will be continued throughout the project, and the staff appointed will receive in-house training in this area with a view to running annual activities (e.g. Meet the scientist, How Science Works (Thinktank), Cafe scientifique, school talks and workshops).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description A range of Lithium containing garnet compounds have been investigated. These compounds have been shown to be able to exchange lithium with protons. The conductivities of these proton exchanged garnets have been evaluated both standalone and as composites with solid acids. The work has shown that the conductivity is lowered on protonation, but this conductivity loss can be partially recovered through use of a composite system. Potential electrodes have been evaluated for use with these electrolytes, and the interfacial reactivity assessed. Further studies have investigated alternative proton conducting electrolytes potentially able to operate below 400C.
Exploitation Route We are currently taking forward the best systems to evaluate as electrolytes in solid oxide fuel cells. The work on the proton exchange is also of relevance to the solid state Li ion battery field, where garnet systems are attracting significant interest. A patent has been submitted utilising the knowledge gained from the project
Sectors Energy,Environment

 
Description A wide range of activities have been performed promoting clean energy technologies to schools and the general public: in particular this has been employed to illustrate how fuel cells and Li ion batteries work: highlighting both the similarities and the fundamental differences between these two devices. The public engagement work has linked in with the school of chemistry, university of birmingham school's engagement initiative chembam (www.chembam.com), and has involved pupils of a wide range of abilities. A patent has been published using the knowledge generated.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Title ENERGY GENERATION 
Description A method of converting thermal energy to electrical energy, the method comprising the steps of harvesting thermal energy from a source;using the thermal energy to drive one or more chemical reactions;using one or more reaction products of the one or more chemical reactions to drive an electrochemical cell to produce electrical energy. 
IP Reference WO2019158948 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact Pending
 
Description 'Chemistry at Work' at the Black Country Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Chemistry at work event at the black country museum. Talk and demonstrations on energy technologies including fuel cells
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Christmas Schools Lecture (16th Dec 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Christmas lecture covering the chemistry of energy production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Exploring Alternative "Realities" in Solid State Chemistry: Keynote Talk at Science Matters Conference, Loughborough Uni 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk highlighting current research on fuel cells and batteries, emphasising the importance of investigating new avenues of research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Fuel Cell Practical 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Fuel cell workshop at Wodensborough Ormiston Academy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Fuel Cell and Battery outreach activity for students with special educational needs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact this was a day long event with Woodlands school which caters for pupils for special educational needs specifically social, emotional and mental health needs. Sessions on Fuel Cells and Batteries were run for a group of Year 11 (Final year GCSE) students.

The event included:
· Introducing our area of research (Fuel Cells and Battery materials)
· Discussing development of batteries e.g comparing mobile phones batteries from the past and present
· Helping students put together rudimentary batteries and fuel cells to demonstrate their principals
· Getting the group to think about the possible drawbacks of both technologies.
· Connecting those drawbacks discussed with current research conducted at Birmingham

The events was very enjoyable and the group seemed very engaged with the topic and they seem to really enjoy the practical experiments chosen for the session. The activity was designed to underpin the basic principles the students are taught inside the classroom for their science GCSE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Future directions in metal ion battery research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A presentation to the International Energy Agency Experts' Committee on Research and Development Priority Setting. The topic of the meeting was blue skies research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.iea.org/workshops/blue-sky-research-for-energy-technology.html
 
Description Introduction to Fuel Cells 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Date: 30/10/17
School: Lordswood Girls' School
Approximately 20 students.

Activity: 2 hour session which started with a general introduction to energy as a topic. Discussed the benefits of green technologies such as fuel cells. Students then took part in an electrolysis experiment where the students generated hydrogen to then powder an LED. Full method here (half way down the page):

https://chembam.com/experiments/fuel-cells-for-future-energy/

After the experiment, we discussed with the students what were the pros and cons of the set up that they had just assembled and then briefly talked about everyday life working as a researcher. As there was still time in the session, we asked the students to have a go at the alginate experiment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chembam.com/experiments/fuel-cells-for-future-energy/
 
Description Lecture and demonstrations for RSC Top of the bench competition (Jan 18, 2020) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Using resources developed to explain Li ion batteries and fuel cells, a lecture was given on the chemistry of energy production and storage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Radio broadcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact two hour phone in session on UnityFM birmingham (20000 listeners) covering the periodic table and clean energy (fuel cells, batteries)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description School's lecture on energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact school's christmas lecture covering energy, including fuel cells and batteries
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk for postgraduate conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation "Exploring Alternative "realities" in Solid State Chemistry" to PG/UG audience highlighting the importance of considering alternative approaches in research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UK Energy Storage 2018 conference: Structural aspects of Li ion conducting garnets (Poster) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Poster presentation on the structural characteristics of Li ion conducting garnets: highlighting the effect of Li ordering and Li/H exchange
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UK Solid State Electrolytes for Batteries (25th Sept 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We organised the 1st UK workshop on solid state electrolytes for batteries
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description battery workshop for primary school children 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Visit to Valley School to deliver two back to back sessions to 90 primary pupils (180 students in total). Following an intro, we did some short whole group activities and then each PhD ambassador took on a group of 30 students. They helped them to make and understand the potato batteries they made. The pupils enjoyed the sessions and there were lots of great questions which showed how well they understood the group intro.
We related batteries back to work of the our EPSRC projects on batteries and fuel cells. We also discussed more generally with students "what a scientist" looks like - a few were shocked that two of our scientist don't wear spectacles, which goes to show how important it is for them to meet real scientists and break down some of these ideas.

Teachers feedback indicated that we increased the students chemistry knowledge, linked the work to the curriculum and they are likely to organise a visit again. Their comments were "the kids loved it" and "the kids really enjoyed it".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description workshop on batteries and fuel cells 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact workshop for several groups of schoolchildren on batteries and fuel cells
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description workshops on batteries and fuel cells aimed at low ability school children 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We ran workshops for low-ability Yr 10 students from Balaam Wood School.
This included:
• Introducing Li ion batteries and fuel cells
• Discussing batteries use with small groups e.g. use in everyday life
• Helping students doing a practical on batteries/fuel cells
• Demonstrating a simple fuel cell/battery in action
• Showing students real life fuel cell/battery
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018