Whether it’s the result of a snow storm, a hurricane or an earthquake, virtually everyone has experienced the inconveniences of a power outage. But some countries, most notably Japan, have begun to use residential-scale power generation units that run off of solid oxide fuel cells. A team of researchers, led by Xingbo Liu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University, is working to advance SOFC technology in hopes of the trend catching on in America.
SOFCs are electrochemical devices that use hydrogen, coal syngas or abandoned natural gas to power the cell. They offer significant advantages in terms of efficiency, fuel flexibility and impurity tolerance when compared to internal combustion engines, turbines or other types of fuel cell.
According to Liu, who is partnering with researchers at Northwestern University and Fuel Cell Energy, the biggest detriment to its implementation is in two areas: cost and stability.
“Solid oxide fuel cells are expensive and degrade much too quickly to make them viable for the average homeowner,” said Liu. “Our goal is to provide solutions that help to extend the target life of the cell to about 40,000 hours of operation while bringing costs lower.”
SOFCs operate at a very high temperature, which can cause the electrolyte and electrodes contained within the cell to degrade rendering it useless said Liu. “Our goal is to create a scalable and cost-effective coating process that will create a dense barrier between the cathode and electrolyte layers of the cell to avoid a detrimental reaction.”
The researchers plan to create a suspension made up of barrier layer particles. “By using the electrical field,” said Liu, “we can drive particles to the coating, causing it to become dense. This will allow us to achieve a better barrier, which should improve cathode stability.”
Their work is being funded by a three-year, $800,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Liu is an innovator in energy storage research. He directs WVU’s Center for Electrochemical Energy Systems, which is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of researchers charged with creating technology-to-market strategies for advancing electric storage technologies. He recently secured a U.S. Patent for his invention of solid electrolytes for lithium ion batteries and he is working with partners from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to improve the safety of Li-ion batteries for stationary energy storage applications. This work is being funded by the Energy Storage Program in the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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