Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) researchers have come up with a new anode for natural gas fuel cells. The development may make commercialization of the natural gas fuel cell practical thanks to the development of electrode materials that maintain long-term stability in hydrocarbon fuels. The advantage of using this material includes that it uses internal transition metal as a further catalyst in a fuel cell’s operating condition.

The SEM images present surface morphologies of Pr0.5Ba0.5Mn0.85Ni0.15O3 before reduction and PrBaMn1.7Ni0.3O5+δ after reduction in humidified (3% H2O) H2 at 800 °C for 4 h; scale bar 500 nm. In the SEM image of PrBaMn1.7Ni0.3O5+δ, the purple circles indicate the exsolved nanoparticles. Image Credit: Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. Click image for the largest view.

The breakthrough comes from a research, conducted by Professor Guntae Kim of the Energy and Chemical Engineering department at UNIST in collaboration with Professor Jeeyoung Shin of Sookmyoung Women’s University, Professor Jeong Woo Han of University of Seoul, Professor Young-Wan Ju of Wonkwang University, and Professor Hu Young Jeong of UNIST.

Their results have been published the journal Nature Communications. The development has emerged as the promising candidate for the next generation direct hydrocarbon solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) technology.

A solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are an electrochemical conversion device that produces electricity by oxidizing a fuel. SOFCs are still subject to a fairly intense development for their unforgettable competitive benefits of long-term stability, a high fuel flexibility, low emissions, as well as relatively low cost.

SOFCs are possible next generation fuel cells, as they are capable of raising efficiency higher than 90% when using the exhaust heat. However, successful commercialization of SOFCs has been delayed due to its high production cost mainly related with the development of electrode materials in hydrocarbon fuel cells.

Professor Kim has solved the problem of securing the hydrogen by developing a new anode material (catalyst) which can directly use hydrocarbons, known as natural gas liquids (LGLs) and LPG, as a fuel of SOFCs. Using this newly-developed catalyst, SOFCs can operate the fuel cell without converting the hydrocarbon into hydrogen externally.

In the study, the research team proposed that transition metals are exsolved from the new anode material in reducing atmosphere. Generally, the transition metals act as fuel oxidation catalyst in SOFCs. They also reported that the exsolved Co and Ni nanoparticles on the surface of the layered perovskite show good stability with no remarkable degradation. Moreover the single cell presents 1.2 W/cm2 in H2 at 800o C, indicating that the performance is twice as high as that of the conventional electrode material (0.6 W/cm2).

Professor Kim the corresponding author of the paper said, “Although the existing anode materials demonstrated good initial performance, due to their long-term instability and complex manufacturing process, they could not be reliably operated when using hydrocarbon directly as fuel. The new anode material reduces manufacturing process and maintains good stability, which is expected to accelerate the commercialization of SOFCs.”

According to the research team, their findings provide a key to understand the exsolution trends in transition metals (Mn, Co, Ni and Fe) containing perovskites and design highly catalytic perovskite oxides for fuel reforming and electro-oxidation.

Lets hope this one does it. Going direct from natural gas to electricity at 90% is way way better than blowing combustion exhaust through a turbine or boiling water to make dry steam.


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