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Ostrovskiy, Yevgeniy
Wachsman, Eric
Ceramics have a wide variety of applications for energy conversion and other industries because of their unique properties. Conduction of multiple charged species simultaneously enables their use as membranes, electrodes, and more. Perovskites especially, have highly tunable features, and can be modified through doping, surface coating, and microstructure. In this work, each of those approaches was used to improve and/or characterize ceramic components for either proton conducting membranes or solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). In the case of membranes, perovskites have limited electronic conductivity, which reduces their ability to permeate hydrogen. Through changing the dopants used in existing perovskite compositions, the electronic conductivity was improved dramatically allowing its use as an n-type conductor. This was achieved by using Pr as a dopant, which introduces electronic conductivity due its multivalent nature. It also has a favorable ionic radius for proton conduction, which is required for hydrogen permeation. In the case of fuel cells, both performance and stability need to be improved for their widespread adoption. The surface chemistry and physical properties of two major cathode materials were evaluated, La0.6Sr0.4Co0.2Fe0.8O3 (LSCF) and Sm0.5Sr0.5CoO3 (SSC). Both are susceptible to the formation of unwanted secondary phases during operation as SOFC cathodes. By studying the surface chemistry of LSCF it was possible to better understand the mechanism of cathode degradation. In the case of LSCF, it was found that electrostatic forces that result from a chemical potential difference between the bulk and surface, promote the segregation of Sr cations from the bulk which is responsible for the degradation. However, the behavior of SSC was more difficult to determine. In SSC, cation segregation was far more dependent on the grain orientation than LSCF and therefore was more difficult to quantify, and the techniques used for improving stability in LSCF were unsuccessful when applied to SSC. Additionally thin films deposited through atomic layer deposition (ALD) were tested as a means of enhancing the performance of LSCF. Due to the challenges of using ALD on porous substrates, the role of variables in the deposition process that can be widely implemented were studied, with a focus on oxygen vacancies. It was found that the choice of oxidizer and the addition of an annealing step can dramatically improve the effectiveness of thing film electrode coatings. Although ALD may not be practical for modifying SOFC electrodes, these are process steps that can be easily implemented by other researchers to improve their existing approaches. Finally, the role of microstructure was addressed as well. Tuning the porosity of SOFC anodes is essential for large scale fabrication of fuel cells and improving their performance and reliability. A microstructure featuring a hierarchal porosity was able to improve the performance of SOFC anodes, especially at lower temperatures and fuel ratios. Improvements in microstructure will allow the fabrication of larger scale SOFCs that are more reliable and mechanically stronger, with minimized performance losses associated with using a thicker anode. The primary scientific merit of this research is demonstrated in the work on cathode degradation and coatings. There the focus was on using a methodology based on a fundamental material property, oxygen vacancies, which are essential to many applications of metal oxides. With this type of approach, it is possible to apply similar techniques to other areas of research involving metal oxides or thin films. The main engineering merit of this research is evaluating the relationship between microstructure, SOFC performance, and large SOFC production. Commercialization of SOFCs requires that they are as effective as possible outside of ideal conditions (pure fuel, high temperatures). Hierarchal porosity has been shown to improve performance under both conditions and can also be applied to cathodes.