Preparation, characterisation and cell testing of gadolinium doped cerium electrolyte thin films for solid oxide fuel cell applications

Nguyen, T 2008, Preparation, characterisation and cell testing of gadolinium doped cerium electrolyte thin films for solid oxide fuel cell applications, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Electrical and Computer Engineering, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Preparation, characterisation and cell testing of gadolinium doped cerium electrolyte thin films for solid oxide fuel cell applications
Author(s) Nguyen, T
Year 2008
Abstract Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are devices that directly convert chemical energy into electrical energy, without proceeding through a Carnot combustion cycle. These devices are based on the usage of solid oxide electrolytes operating at relatively elevated temperatures. Two major hurdles must be overcome in order to decrease the operating temperatures of practical SOFCs. The first relates to reducing ohmic losses within solid electrolytes. The second relates to the need for developing high performance electrodes since electrolyte reaction rates at both anode and cathode are affected detrimentally as operating temperatures fall. This PhD project has focussed on addressing the first hurdle in two innovative ways: 1. the implementation of solid electrolytes with higher ionic conductivity than zirconia, 2. the development of very thin film electrolytes as thick as 5µm. Several thin films with novel electrode-electrolyte structures were fabricated and evaluated in order to demonstrate the viability of low temperature SOFC operations. Development of such thin films was innovative and challenging to achieve.

The approach taken in this work involved fabricating a dense and thin gadolinia doped ceria (10GDC - Gd 10wt%, Ce 90wt%) oxide electrolyte. 10GDC is an electrolyte exhibiting higher conductivities than conventional materials during low temperature operations. A research contribution of this PhD was the demonstration of the deposition of 10GDC thin films using RF magnetron sputtering for the first time. 10GDC thin film electrolytes with thickness in a range between 0.1 to 5µm were fabricated on 10 yttrium stabilised zirconium (10YSZ) substrates by using a RF magnetron sputterer. The primary parameters controlling 10GDC thin film deposition using this method were explored in order to identify optimal conditions.

The fabricated films were subsequently analysed for their morphology, composition and stoichiometry using a variety of methods, including Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) with Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrometry (EDS), optical microscopy, X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), and X-ray Diffraction (XRD).

A preliminary test was conducted in order to examine the function of 10GDC thin film electrolytes together with the cathode and anode substrates at intermediate temperatures (700oC). A complete planar single cell was designed and assembled for this purpose. However, when fully assembled and tested, the cell failed to generate any voltage or current. Consequently, the remainder of the PhD work was focused on systematically exploring the factors contributing to the assembled fuel cell failure. As fabrication failure analysis is seldom reported in the scientific literature, this analysis represents a significant scientific contribution.

This analysis proceeded in a series of steps that involved several different methods, including SEM, red dye analysis, surface morphology and cross section analysis of the cell. It was found that pinholes and cracks were present during the fuel cell operating test. Cathode delamination was also found to have occurred during the test operation. This was determined to be due to thermal expansion mismatch between the cathode substrate and the 10GDC electrolyte thin film.

A series of suggestions for future research are presented in the conclusion of this work.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Electrical and Computer Engineering
Keyword(s) Fuel cells
Thin-film circuits
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