ARCHIVED - Building Clean and Sustainable Technologies
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December 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario
NRC researchers are investigating ways of making fuel cell technologies more efficient, more reliable and cheaper to manufacture. One team, as part of an international research partnership, has designed promising new materials for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.
Fuel cells are one of the leading contenders for widespread, efficient and relatively clean generation of power for uses not only in the automobile industry but also to generate power for residential applications.
|NRC researcher working on promising new materials for solid oxyde fuel cells.|
One form of fuel cell technology is the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC). SOFCs can use any hydrocarbon fuel (i.e. natural gas) as a source of energy, run at much higher temperatures than Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells (800-1000 degrees C) and tend to be used as stationary power sources.
NRC fuel cell researchers in Ottawa recently completed a multi-year international research project with researchers in the United Kingdom to improve materials used in the production of SOFCs. Improving the chances of market success for fuel cells will depend on achieving decreased costs in their materials and manufacturing. In the case of SOFCs, improving their ability to operate at lower operating temperatures will also reduce costs because it means that system components can be made out of less expensive materials that, ordinarily, wouldn't be durable under high temperatures.
SOFCs run at normally high temperatures because this provides the best environment for the transfer or conductivity of oxygen ions which are necessary to transform chemical energy into usable electric energy. The research team took the approach that, rather than rely on temperature alone, other SOFC materials should be evaluated to determine if they could be engineered so that, by their very structure, the ability of oxygen ions to move freely and quickly would be increased.
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The project resulted in the synthesis of a number of unique oxide ion conductors made from the mineral perskovite, already popular for use as a cathode layer in SOFCs. Conventional perskovite cathodes are oxygen deficient, allowing oxygen ions to hop in a path through the structure. In contrast, the group synthesized new structures, into which an additional oxygen-rich layer was inserted. In this case, the excess oxygen, referred to as interstitial oxygen sites, allow oxygen ions to flow quickly and smoothly along this layer. The result is that the cathode layer of the fuel cell becomes extremely efficient, accelerating the electrochemical reaction while also reducing overall operating temperatures. The team has reported success in developing SOFC cathodes that function at 500 degrees C temperature, much lower that current SOFC operating temperatures. The project was carried out with partners from Imperial College as part of a NRC-British Council agreement.
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