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Affordable and efficient ceramic fuel cells are in development that could end up used to power homes.

These new development would enable more efficient use of natural gas for power generation through the use of fuel cells that convert the chemical energy of a fuel source into electrical energy close to where it sees use.

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The reliable, environmentally friendly fuel source alternative would help guarantee greater energy security while distributed generation technologies would lead to reduced energy costs for consumers.

“Our work demonstrates a proton-conducting ceramic fuel cell that generates electricity off of either hydrogen or methane fuel and runs at much lower temperatures that conventional ceramic fuel cells,” said Colorado School of Mines Professor Ryan O’Hayre.

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“We achieved this advance by developing a new air electrode for our fuel cell that is highly active even at lower temperatures because it is a triple-conducting electrode (it conducts electron holes, oxygen ions, and protons all at the same time) and we applied a relatively new fabrication method that greatly reduces the complexity and cost for the fuel cell fabrication,” he said.

O’Hayre and his team wrote a paper on the entitled, “Readily Processed Protonic Ceramic Fuel Cells with High Performance at Low Temperatures.” The paper’s writers are Mines researchers Chuancheng Duan, Jianhua Tong, Meng Shang, Stefan Nikodemski, Michael Sanders, Sandrine Ricote and O’Hayre, as well as Ali Almonsoori of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi.

The paper’s abstract reads:
“Because of the generally lower activation energy associated with proton conduction in oxides compared to oxygen ion conduction, protonic ceramic fuel cells (PCFCs) should be able to operate at lower temperatures than solid oxide fuel cells (250°-550°C vs. ≥600°C) on hydrogen and hydrocarbon fuels if fabrication challenges and suitable cathodes can be developed. We fabricated the complete sandwich structure of PCFCs directly from raw precursor oxides with only one moderate-temperature processing step through the use of sintering agents such as copper oxide. We also developed a proton, oxygen-ion, and electron-hole conducting PCFC-compatible cathode material … that greatly improved oxygen reduction reaction kinetics at intermediate to low temperature. We demonstrated high performance from five different types of PCFC button cells without degradation after 1400 hours. Power densities as high as 445 milliwatt per square centimeter at 500°C on H2 and 142 milliwatt per square centimeter on CH4 were achieved, and operation was possible even at 350°C.”

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