EVALUATION AND IMPROVEMENT OF MECHANICAL AND CHEMICAL RESILIENCE OF INTERMEDIATE-TEMPERATURE SOLID OXIDE FUEL CELL ANODES
Wachsman, Eric D
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Solid oxide fuel cells are in the process of reaching maturity as an energy generation technology, but a number of technical challenges exist, namely mechanical and chemical resilience, that hinder the realization of their full potential and widespread deployment. As more research and development work has been performed on intermediate temperature SOFCs based on gadolinium doped ceria, there persists a number of gaps in the understanding of the behavior of these devices. The mechanical properties of component material and SOFC structures in non-ambient conditions, the nature and degree of damage caused by sulfurized hydrocarbon fuels, and the potential for leveraging produced thermal energy are not satisfactorily characterized for GDC-based SOFCs. Mechanical testing of porous GDC and anode supported SOFC coupons from room temperature to 650°C was performed in air and reducing conditions using a test system designed and built for this application. Spherical porosity was determined to result in the higher strength compared to other pore geometries and a positive linear dependence between temperature and strength was determined for SOFC coupons. Additionally, placing the electrolyte layer in compressive stress resulted in higher strengths. Standard SOFCs were operated while exposed to hydrogen and methane containing ppm level hydrogen sulfide concentration. An infiltration technique was used to deposit a fine layer of GDC on the inner surfaces of some cell anodes, and the results of sulfur expose was compared between infiltrated and unmodified cells. GDC infiltration allowed cells to operate stably for hundreds of hours on sulfurized fuel while unmodified cells were fatally damaged in less than two days. A primary and a resulting secondary degradation mechanism were identified and associated with sulfur and carbon respectively through surface analysis. A novel technique for measuring thermal power output of small-scale SOFCs operating on a variety of fuels was developed and used to evaluate electrical and thermal outputs while operating on simulated anaerobic digester biogas. These findings were used to propose a multi-utility generation system centered on a nominal 10 kW SOFC unit fed by anaerobic digesters and capable of producing clean water and electricity for 50 individuals through direct contact membrane distillation driven by captured waste heat from the SOFC.