Optimisation and testing of large ceramic-impregnated solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)
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Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are the most efficient electrochemical devices to directly convert stored chemical energy to usable electrical energy. The infiltration of ceramic conductors and catalytic metals (e.g. Ni, Pt and Pd) into porous scaffolds that had been pre-sintered onto the electrolyte is regarded as an effective way of promoting the electrode performance via producing nano-scale particles by in-situ sintering at relatively low temperatures. Large-scale fuel cells (5 cm x 5 cm) are prepared with this method and tested to demonstrate its scalability so as to achieve industrial applications. Four configurations are examined in respect of variation in the thickness of cathode, anode and electrolyte to investigate their effect on the infiltration process and electrochemical losses. To further improve infiltration as a method of fabricating high-performance electrodes, much effort is also devoted to optimising and understanding the microstructure of pre-sintered scaffold and its effect on infiltration using image analysis and electrochemical impedance. First, we have prepared the nano-structured electrodes on the 200-μm thick electrolyte-supported planar fuel cell with a 5 x 5 cm dimension. The 8YSZ scaffold is impregnated with La₀.₈Sr₀.₂Cr₀.₅Mn₀.₅O₃ (LSCM) for the anode and La₀.₈Sr₀.₂FeO₃ (LSF) for the cathode. The large planar cell achieved a maximum power density of 116 mWcm⁻² at 700°C and 223 mWcm⁻² at 800°C in humidified hydrogen. Moreover, with the addition of catalyst of 10 wt.% CeO₂ and 1 wt.% Pd, the cell performance reached 209 mWcm⁻² at 700°C and 406 mWcm⁻² at 800°C. Compared to the cell without catalysts, ceria and Pd are efficient in decreasing the electrochemical reaction resistance but making the diffusion resistance more obvious. Second, supported thin electrolytes are prepared by scalable tape casting to reduce the ohmic losses as that in electrolyte-supported cell. The cell with thick LSF-infiltrated support is very efficient in decreasing the ohmic loss thanks to the high solubility of its nitrate precursors in water and fairly high electric conductivity, but the thick cathode causes higher diffusional losses, especially at 800°C. Even though with thinner electrolyte, the ohmic loss from the cell with thick infiltrated anode is comparable to that of 200-μm electrolyte supported cell. The extra ohmic loss can be attributed to the compositional segregation of La₀.₇Sr₀.₃VO₃ (LSV) in the infiltration process in the anode, and lower loading, ca. 25 wt %. A trade-off between the diffusional loss from the cathode and the extra ohmic loss from the thick anode can be achieved by sandwiching the electrolyte between electrodes with identical thickness. A flat large area cell prepared with this method can achieve a high performance of 300 mW cm⁻² and 489 mW cm⁻² at 700°C and 800°C, respectively, if Pd-ceria is added to the anode LSV as catalyst. Third, image analyses and modelling are performed on the constrained sintering of porous thin film on a rigid substrate to study the evolution of pores at different stages. Result shows that both the anisotropy of the pore former/pores in the green body and transport of materials during the sintering process have effect on the orientation of the final microstructure. Specifically, the in-plane orientation of large-scale pores will be intensified during the constrained sintering process, while those small pores whose shape are subjected to materials transport during sintering tend to erect during the constrained sintering process at 1300°C. Fourth, image analyses and semi-quantification are used to predict the correlation between the microstructure and performance of the LSF-infiltrated electrode. Two types of YSZ powders, Unitec 1-μm powder with a broad particle-size distribution having two maxima at ~ 0.1 μm and 0.8 μm, and Unitec 2-μm powder with only one at ~1 μm are selected to fabricate the porous scaffold for infiltration. The porous structure using Unitec 2-μm powder shows finer YSZ grains and a higher boundary length than the 2-μm powder. Ac impedance on symmetrical cells was used to evaluate the performance of the electrode impregnated with 35-wt.% La₀.₈Sr₀.₂FeO₃. At 700°C, the electrode from Unitec 2-μm powder shows a polarization resistance (Rp) of 0.21 Ω cm², and series resistance (Rs) of 8.5 Ω cm², lower than the electrode from Unitec 1-μm powder does. The quantitative study on image indicates that Unitec 2-μm powder is better in producing architecture of high porosity or long triple phase boundary (TPB), which is attributed as the reason for the higher performance of the LSF-impregnated electrode. Finally, oxides of transition metals are doped into the YSZ-infiltrated LSF electrode and the impedances of symmetrical cells are tested to evaluate their effect on the ohmic and polarization resistance. Cobalt oxides are able to reduce the ohmic resistance and polarization resistance only when it is calcined at 700°C, but nickel oxide can reduce both the ohmic and polarization resistance if it is well-mixed and fully reacted with the previously infiltrated LSF. Doping of manganese oxide into LSF-YSZ electrode slightly changes the ohmic resistance but significantly increases the polarization resistance. Detailed analyses of the impact of infiltration process on the impedance data and oxygen reduction process are also presented.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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