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Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) are a class of solid-state electrochemical conversion devices that produce electricity directly by oxidizing a fuel gas. They consist in an anode-cathode duet separated by a solid electrolyte. The anode is fed with hydrogen or other fuels where the cathode is in contact with air, meaning oxygen. Overall, a SOFC operates thanks to the combined action of two external stimuli: a gaseous environment and temperature.
Owing to the recent advances in situ and operando transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Dr. Bugnet and his team set up an experiment to operate a SOFC inside an environmental TEM to identify how the device microstructure determines its electrical properties. To do so, an elementary anode (NiO) - electrolyte (yttria-stabilized zirconia) - cathode (strontium-doped lanthanum manganite) sandwich was prepared via the focused ion beam (FIB) technique. This sandwich was then mounted on the DENSsolutions Lightning heating and biasing MEMS-based specimen holder and inserted in an environmental TEM.
During this webinar, Dr. Bugnet will discuss how they were able to correlate the variation of voltage between the anode and the cathode to the gas composition and the anode microstructure. The latter was analyzed by means of conventional and high-resolution imaging, diffraction, and EELS. The system was cycled several times by decreasing and re-increasing the O₂ concentration in the gas flow, and correlations between microstructure, gas composition, and cell voltage were established. Results were further confirmed by macroscopic ex situ tests in an oven using the same materials. Such operando experiments open numerous perspectives to investigate the root cause of failure pathways affecting SOFCs, such as poisoning of active sites or coarsening of the Ni catalyst.
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