August 11, 2008

Materials dramatically drop fuel cell temps

Force a pair of dissimilar materials together and you can lower the operating temperature of solid oxide fuel cells to near room temperature, potentially lowering the cost of utility-scale fuel cells that can run on renewable fuels.

Layering yttria-stabilized zirconia and strontium titanate changes the crystal structures of the two materials where they meet, which opens channels for oxygen ions to flow through at near room temperature. Oxygen ions flow through a solid electrolyte between two electrodes in the chemical process solid oxide fuel cells use to generate electricity from liquid fuels.

Today's solid oxide fuel cells operate at 600 to 800 degrees Celsius, which limits the materials and fuels the power generators can use, and requires long startup times. The new electrolyte could make fuel cells economically competitive for powering cities, campuses and buildings.

Research paper:
Colossal Ionic Conductivity at Interfaces of Epitaxial ZrO2:Y2O3/SrTiO3 Heterostructures
Science, August 1, 2008

Researchers' homepages:
Complex Materials Physics Group, University of Alcala of Madrid
Electron Microscopy Group, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Related stories and briefs:
Ceramic promises cooler fuel cells -- a material that lowers fuel cell operating temperatures to 600 degrees Celsius
Cooler material boosts fuel cells -- a material that lowers fuel cell operating temperatures to 500 to 700 degrees Celsius.

Back to ERN August 11/18, 2008



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