ARCHIVED - Collaborating On "Next Generation" Fuel Cells

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April 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

The pressure to develop cleaner, more efficient single sources of heat and electrical energy is the driving force behind the development of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) at NRC and elsewhere. However, if SOFCs are to become commercially viable, production costs must be lower and the reliability, as well as durability of these systems needs improvement.

A relatively new instrument at NRC-ICPET is a Bruker-AXS D8 Discover GADDS system, an X-ray diffraction instrument that can perform very fast analyses on polymer and other materials. Dr. Whitfield also uses this instrument for micro-diffraction, using very small samples.
A relatively new instrument at NRC-ICPET is a Bruker-AXS D8 Discover GADDS system, an X-ray diffraction instrument that can perform very fast analyses on polymer and other materials. Dr. Whitfield also uses this instrument for micro-diffraction, using very small samples.

NRC Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology (NRC-ICPET) researchers, Drs. Pamela Whitfield, Gisele Amow and Isobel Davidson, teamed up with Dr. Stephen Skinner (Department of Materials, Imperial College, U.K.) to collaborate on a project that tackled these challenges.

The research was funded by the NRC-British Council Joint S&T Fund and involved comparing methods to synthesize novel cathode materials using a conventional Pechini process and a non-conventional production method – microwave-assisted synthesis. The novel cathode materials produced by both methods were then evaluated for their potential use in intermediate temperature SOFCs.

Dr. Yeong Yoo's team of international Post Doctoral Fellows is working to investigate ceramic materials for solid oxide fuel cell MEAs as well as hydrogen storage options.
Dr. Yeong Yoo's team of international Post Doctoral Fellows is working to investigate ceramic materials for solid oxide fuel cell MEAs as well as hydrogen storage options.

The two teams worked together on developing new cathode compositions in a family of oxides known to be hyperstoichiometric in oxygen. In this class of materials the ionic transport of oxygen is augmented by interstitial oxide ions within the structure's crystal lattice. Led by Dr. Skinner, the British team provided expertise on measuring oxide ion mobility using a technique of isotopic exchange and secondary ion mass spectroscopy. The research led to new cathode compositions with greater ionic conductivity, thereby decreasing the amount of energy necessary for oxygen ion mobility and enabling the fuel cell to operate at lower temperatures. Lower operating temperatures can increase the durability of SOFCs and makes smaller-scale applications, such as portable power units, more feasible.

Drs. Pamela Whitfield, Isobel Davidson and Gisele Amow team on an international project to investigate novel cathode materials, for SOFC applications.
Drs. Pamela Whitfield, Isobel Davidson and Gisele Amow team on an international project to investigate novel cathode materials, for SOFC applications.

On the cathode production side, NRC-ICPET's project team explored a novel production method – microwaves – to enhance the speed and lower the temperatures at which cathode materials are synthesized. This helps to lower the production costs associated with these materials. Microwave synthesis provides additional advantages as well. Because of the unique way that microwaves interact with inorganic materials, this method of synthesizing materials can provide new material compositions with unusual crystal structures and morphologies that may actually help to improve cell performance.

Leading-edge Research Facilities and Equipment for Fuel Cell Studies

NRC-ICPET's X-ray powder diffractometers, equipped with a 2D area detector, high speed position sensitive detector, and variable temperature/atmospheric chambers, are used by researchers to examine and characterize a wide range of materials used for fuel cell development.

X-ray powder diffraction analysis has always been a cornerstone technique for research on solid-state materials and, in particular, for studying increasingly complex materials on smaller and smaller length scales or within an environment representative of their application. The new microdiffraction instrument is part of NRC-ICPET's new state-of-the-art X-ray facility which regroups all X-ray diffraction instrumentation located within the Institute. Led by Dr. Pamela Whitfield, an authority on X-ray diffraction, the facility supports numerous research projects at NRC.

Analytical facilities such as X-ray diffractometers, in-situ electrochemical Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and High Performance Liquid Chromatography are integral to the research and development of new, improved materials for fuel cells.

This blend of complimentary expertise at NRC and Imperial College has resulted in a greater selection of materials designed for cathode electrodes, as well as novel methods of synthesizing these materials to produce SOFCs that are reliable, durable and less expensive to manufacture and operate.


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