Project No: FE0009435
Performer: University of Wisconsin System


Shailesh Vora
Technology Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
626 Cochrans Mill Road
P.O. Box 10940, MS 922-204
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-0940
(412) 386-7515

Briggs White
Project Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
3610 Collins Ferry Road
P.O. Box 880, MS PO3B
Morgantown, WV 26507-0880
(304) 285-5437

Dane Morgan
Principal Investigator
University of Wisconsin
1509 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 265-5879

Award Date:  10/01/2012
Project Date:  09/30/2015

DOE Share: $499,926.00
Performer Share: $125,236.00
Total Award Value: $625,162.00

Performer website: University of Wisconsin System -

Advanced Energy Systems - Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Enhancement of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) Cathode Electrochemical Performance Using Multi-Phase Interfaces

Project Description

This project will focus on advancing the fundamental understanding of how solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) cathodes operate so performance can be improved. The work centers on the role of material interfaces in determining electrochemical performance. Advanced physical characterization tools will be employed in support of a coordinated approach consisting of ab-initio modeling and a unique electrochemical characterization technique called Non-Linear Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy. The results will be interpreted to determine the operating mechanisms and identify new material architectures enabling improved fuel cell performance.

Program Background and Project Benefits

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is developing the next generation of efficient fossil fuel technologies capable of producing affordable electric power with near-zero emissions. The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) program at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is focused on developing low-cost, highly efficient SOFC power systems that are capable of simultaneously producing electric power, from either natural gas or coal, with carbon capture capabilities. Research is directed towards the technologies that are critical to the commercialization of SOFC technology. To successfully complete the development of SOFC technology from the present state to the point of commercial readiness, the SOFC Program efforts are aligned into three Key Technologies:

(1) Anode, Cathode, and Electrolyte (AEC) Development
(2) Atmospheric Pressure Systems
(3) Pressurized Systems

The AEC Development Key Technology is R&D in nature whereas the other two, Atmospheric Pressure Systems and Pressurized Systems, are focused on the development, demonstration, and deployment of SOFC power systems.

The AEC Development Key Technology consists of projects that will lead to substantially improved power density, enhanced performance, reduced degradation rate, and more reliable and robust systems. Research is focused on the technologies critical to the commercialization of SOFC technology, such as cathode performance, gas seals, interconnects, failure analysis, coal contaminants, fuel processing, and balance-of-plant components. Research is conducted at universities, national laboratories, small businesses, and other R&D organizations.

This project focuses on advancing the fundamental understanding of how cathodes operate, centering on the role of material interfaces in determining electrochemical performance. Improved cell/stack life and performance will reduce operating cost and increase efficiency, resulting in reduction in the cost of electricity and reduction of CO2 emissions from the entire platform. Specifically, this project will determine new operation mechanisms and material architectures using advanced physical and electrochemical characterization techniques and tools.

Project Scope and Technology Readiness Level

The University of Wisconsin’s (UW) team will focus initially on patterned thin films of lanthanum strontium cobalt ferrite (LSCF)-113 with varying levels of LSC-214 decoration. Patterned films have controlled orientations, interfacial relationships, and surface geometry, making them far better suited for extracting quantitative electrochemical properties and catalytic mechanisms than standard sintered electrode structures. These films will be studied with a combination of linear-and non-linear electrochemical impedance spectroscopy to establish the magnitude of their oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) activity and the underlying mechanisms. These data will be interpreted through both standard equivalent circuit analysis and modeling of the elemental kinetic processes. Molecular-scale ab-initio methods will be used to provide qualitative guidance on local composition, defect chemistry, reaction mechanisms, and reaction rate barriers at surfaces and interfaces. The work will extend beyond the thin-film studies to realize the interfacial enhancement under realistic SOFC conditions and will be accomplished through studying LSCF-113 porous electrodes decorated with LSC-214 and tested in SOFC button cells. Porous SOFC cathodes with enhanced performance and durability will be developed based on a proven LSCF material platform, which could enable SOFC operation at lower temperatures. As this enhancement requires elements and structures that are very similar to those of pure LSCF, it has the potential to be achieved at no significant detriment to metrics of cost, stability, or lifetime of the cathode. Lowering operating temperatures of SOFCs will reduce component degradation, extend life, and reduce working cost.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) assessment identifies the current state of readiness of the key technologies being developed under the DOE’s Clean Coal Research Program. In FY 12, this project was not assessed.

The TRL assessment process and its results including definition and description of the levels may be found in the "2012 Technology Readiness Assessment-Analysis of Active Research Portfolio".