Electrochemical and Phase Stability Studies of Cathode Materials for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

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Growing energy and climate concerns in the United States and across the world demand improvements in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewability. Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are highly efficient devices that electrochemically convert the chemical energy of a fuel to electricity. These devices can operate on natural gas as a fuel, enabling the use of existing infrastructure with significantly higher efficiency compared to conventional natural gas power plants. However, expensive system components and durability issues prevent SOFCs from being cost-competitive with current power plants. This work focused on the search for new SOFC materials that provide increased performance at reduced operating temperatures. Both electrochemical performance and thermodynamic stability between various layers are important factors for creating SOFCs with good long-term performance, and both were investigated in this work, making extensive use of AC impedance spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. A novel method used to rapidly characterize the electrochemical performance of electrode materials was developed. A hemispherical electrolyte probe pressed into the flat surface of a dense electrode pellet created a circular interface. Impedance spectroscopy measured the polarization resistance associated with the electrode reaction at the interface, along with the resistance of the electrolyte probe, from which the size of the contact was determined. The polarization resistance was normalized by the triple phase boundary (TPB) length to calculate the TPB linear-specific resistance of electronic conductor electrodes. For mixed ionic-electronic conductor (MIEC) electrodes, the polarization resistance was normalized by the contact area to estimate the area-specific surface resistance. Both normalized resistances were found to underestimate literature values by a consistent factor of about 3. The method is shown to have good potential for the rapid screening and ranking of potential SOFC electrode materials. Details of thermodynamic equilibrium were also refined in the LaO1.5-GaO1.5-NiO quasi- ternary phase diagram. Solubility limits of the Lan+1NinO3n+1 Ruddlesden-Popper series of phases and LaGaO3 were determined using conventional phase analysis and the disappearing phase method. For the first time, La3Ni2O7 was found to be stabilized over a small compositional range by the substitution of gallium for nickel. The compositional details of phase relationships involving LaGaO3 were also determined using the disappearing phase method by locating the vertex location of triphasic regions. Equilibrium between LaGaO3 and La4Ni3O10 was confirmed, albeit at substantial levels of nickel in LaGaO3 and gallium in La4Ni3O10, both of which are detrimental to device performance. No equilibrium was ob- served between LaGaO3 and the other Lan+1NinO3n+1 phases. Equilibrium between LaGaO3 and NiO was also confirmed. Additionally, saturating NiO with gallium was found to minimize the amount of nickel in LaGaO3, with an equilibrium concentration of only 7% of the gallium replaced by nickel in the latter.

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  • 02/20/2018
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