Project No: FE0009656
Performer: Trustees of Boston University


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

Patcharin Burke
Project Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
626 Cochrans Mill Road
P.O. Box 10940, MS 922-1W13
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-0940
(412) 386-7378

Srikanth Gopalan
Principal Investigator
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Boston University
15 St. Mary’s Street
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 358-2297

Award Date:  10/01/2012
Project Date:  09/30/2014

DOE Share: $499,999.00
Performer Share: $132,355.00
Total Award Value: $632,354.00

Performer website: Trustees of Boston University -

Advanced Energy Systems - Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Unraveling the Role of Transport, Electrocatalysis, and Surface Science in the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Cathode Oxygen Reduction Reaction

Project Description

The overall goal of this project is to deepen the fundamental knowledge and understanding of solid oxide fuel cell interfaces and to employ such understanding to greatly improve electrochemical performance while meeting SECA cost, stability, and lifetime targets at the cell level. Boston University plans to employ newer cathode and electrocatalyst materials and a variety of experimental and computational tools to achieve this goal. The specific objectives include:

(i) Separating and identifying the influence of oxygen surface adsorption, transport pathways, electron transfer reaction, and incorporation into the electrolyte in the overall oxygen reduction reaction.
(ii) Identifying the role and time evolution of the cathode surface and buried layer interface structure, surface electronic properties, surface composition, and the oxidation state of the transition metal ions during the oxygen reduction process.
(iii) Using new materials combinations and architectures based on the knowledge gained from (i) and (ii), demonstrate a 50 percent improvement in performance in maximum power densities of cells compared to baseline cells employing state-of-the art materials and cell stability that shows 0.1 percent or less per 1000 hours degradation in 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 improving cell power density and reducing the cell degradation rate by developing newer cathode and electrocatalyst materials. 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 employ a combination of experimental and computational tools to probe the surface composition and oxidations states, measure surface exchange and diffusion coefficients of cathode materials, use experimental and theoretical research on thin film cathodes to narrow the choice of newer cathode materials and composition, fabricate and test single cells using selected cathode materials and composition, characterize the microstructure of the cells, and optimize materials choice and cathode microstructure.

Project Scope and Technology Readiness Level

Boston University will build on prior Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance support by employing a combination of experimental and computational tools to develop newer cathode and electrocatalyst materials employed in increasing levels of complexity:

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".