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Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305–313 / locate / ssi

Advances in solid oxide fuel cell technology

S.C. Singhal*
Science and Technology Center, Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation, 1310 Beulah Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235, USA


High temperature solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) offer a clean, pollution-free technology to electrochemically generate
electricity at high efficiencies. These fuel cells provide many advantages over traditional energy conversion systems
including high efficiency, reliability, modularity, fuel adaptability, and very low levels of NO x and SOx emissions.
Furthermore, because of their high temperature of operation ( | 10008C), natural gas fuel can be reformed within the cell
stack eliminating the need for an expensive, external reformer. Also, pressurized SOFCs can be successfully used as
replacements for combustors in gas turbines; such hybrid SOFC–gas turbine power systems are expected to reach
efficiencies over 70%. This paper reviews the materials and fabrication methods used for the different cell components, and
discusses the performance of cells fabricated using these materials; it also discusses the materials and processing studies that
are under investigation to reduce the cell cost. Finally, the paper summarizes the recently built power generation systems that
employed state-of-the-art SOFCs. A new design SOFC that combines the seal-less feature of tubular cells and a flattened air
electrode with integral ribs is also described; this new design has a shortened current path and hence lower cell resistance
and higher power output than tubular cells.  2000 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

Keywords: Fuel cells; Oxide; Electricity (power) generation; Performance; Electrolyte; Electrodes; Gas turbine; Cost

Materials: ZrO 2 ; Y 2 O 3 ; Y 2 O 3 -stabilized ZrO 2 (YSZ); LaMnO 3 ; LaCrO 3 ; Ni

1. Introduction technology to electrochemically generate electricity
at high efficiencies. These fuel cells provide many
The high oxygen ion conductivity over wide advantages over traditional energy conversion sys-
ranges of temperature and oxygen pressures in tems including high efficiency, reliability, modulari-
stabilized zirconia has led to its use as a solid oxide ty, fuel adaptability, and very low levels of NO x and
electrolyte in a variety of electrochemical applica- SO x emissions. Quiet, vibration-free operation of
tions. These include high temperature solid oxide solid oxide fuel cells also eliminates noise usually
fuel cells (SOFCs) which offer a clean, pollution-free associated with conventional power generation sys-
tems. Furthermore, because of their high temperature
of operation ( | 10008C), natural gas fuel can be
*Present address: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 902
Battelle Boulevard, P.O. Box 999, Richland, WA 99352, USA. reformed within the cell stack eliminating the need
Tel.: 11-509-375-6738; fax: 11-509-375-6605. for an expensive, external reformer system. Also,
E-mail address: (S.C. Singhal). pressurized SOFCs can be successfully used as

0167-2738 / 00 / $ – see front matter  2000 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.
PII: S0167-2738( 00 )00452-5
306 S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313

replacements for combustors in gas turbines; such In addition to the above materials selection
hybrid SOFC–gas turbine power systems are ex- criteria, the fabrication processes have been chosen
pected to reach efficiencies approaching 70%. This so that every sequential component fabrication pro-
paper reviews the current status of the solid oxide cess does not affect those components already fabri-
fuel cell technology for power generation. cated onto the cathode tube and to minimize the cell
fabrication cost. The materials and fabrication pro-
cesses used for different cell components are dis-
2. Materials and fabrication processes cussed below.

A solid oxide fuel cell essentially consists of two 2.1. Cathode (air electrode)
porous electrodes separated by a dense, oxygen ion
conducting electrolyte. Solid oxide fuel cells in The air electrode operates in an oxidizing environ-
several different designs have been investigated; ment of air or oxygen at | 10008C and participates
these include planar and tubular geometries. The in the oxygen reduction reaction,
materials for cell components in these different
designs are either the same or very similar in nature. ]O 2 (g) 1 2e 2 5 O 22 (s) (1)
Fig. 1 illustrates the design of the tubular geometry
cell. In this design, the cell components are deposited i.e. oxygen in the gas phase is reduced to oxide ions,
in the form of thin layers on a ceramic cathode (air consuming two electrons in the process. The air
electrode) tube. The materials for different cell electrode in solid oxide fuel cells has to meet the
components have been selected based on the follow- following requirements.
ing criteria.
(a) High electronic conductivity.
(a) Suitable electrical conducting properties re- (b) Chemical and dimensional stability in en-
quired of different cell components to perform vironments encountered during cell operation and
their intended cell functions. during fabrication of interconnection, electrolyte
(b) Adequate chemical and structural stability at and fuel electrode layers.
high temperatures during cell operation as well as (c) Thermal expansion match with other cell
during cell fabrication. components.
(c) Minimal reactivity and interdiffusion among (d) Compatibility and minimum reactivity with
different cell components. the electrolyte and the interconnection with which
(d) Matching thermal expansion among different air electrode comes into contact.
cell components. (e) Sufficient porosity to facilitate transport of
molecular oxygen from the gas phase to the air
electrode / electrolyte interface.

To satisfy these requirements, lanthanum manga-
nite suitably doped with alkaline and rare earth
elements is used in the form of a porous tube onto
which other cell components are fabricated. Lan-
thanum manganite is a p-type perovskite oxide and
shows reversible oxidation–reduction behavior. The
material can have oxygen excess or deficiency
depending upon the ambient oxygen partial pressure
and temperature. Although, it is stable in air and
oxidizing atmospheres, it dissociates at 10008C at
oxygen pressures #10 214 atm. The electronic con-
Fig. 1. Tubular solid oxide fuel cell design. ductivity of lanthanum manganite is due to hopping
S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313 307

of an electron hole between the 13 and 14 valence the dopant Y 2 O 3 . The high oxide ion conductivity in
states of Mn. This conductivity is enhanced by YSZ is attributed to these oxygen vacancies.
doping with a divalent ion such as calcium or In tubular SOFCs, zirconia doped with about 10
strontium. The defect chemistry, electrical conduc- mol.% yttria is used as the electrolyte. The con-
tion, and cathodic polarization behavior of doped ductivity of YSZ at 10008C is maximum (about 0.1 S
lanthanum manganites have been studied in detail cm 21 ) at about 10 mol.% yttria as shown by
[1,2], and alkaline earth doped lanthanum manganite Strickler and Carlson [7]; the activation energy is
has been found to satisfy all the requirements to be also least near this composition. The thermal expan-
an effective air electrode. Furthermore, the reactivity sion of 9–10 mol.% YSZ is about 10310 26 / 8C [8];
and interdiffusion studies [3,4] between doped lan- materials for all other cell components are chosen to
thanum manganite and yttria stabilized zirconia have thermal expansion near this value. For optimum
electrolyte have shown any interactions between cell performance, the YSZ electrolyte must be free of
these two materials at 10008C to be minimal. porosity so as not to allow gases to permeate from
Over 90% of the weight of a tubular SOFC is that one side of the electrolyte to the other, it should be
of the doped lanthanum manganite air electrode tube. uniformly thin to minimize ohmic loss, and it should
Presently, the air electrode material is synthesized have high oxygen ion conductivity with transport
using high purity component oxides such as La 2 O 3 number for oxygen ions close to unity and a trans-
and MnO 2 . Significant reduction in the cost of air port number for electrons as close to zero as
electrode material is possible if less expensive, lower possible. Electrolytes with these desired properties
purity raw materials are used instead of pure lan- are deposited in the form of about a 40-mm-thick
thanum compounds to synthesize the air electrode layer by an electrochemical vapor deposition process
powder. Air electrode material cost can also be (EVD) [9,10]. Deposition of the YSZ electrolyte film
reduced by utilizing compositions that have lower by a more cost-effective non-EVD technique, such as
rare earth content. Use of such lower cost air plasma spraying or colloidal / electrophoretic deposi-
electrode materials in fabricating SOFC cathode tion followed by sintering, is also being investigated
tubes appears promising. to reduce cell cost.

2.2. Electrolyte 2.3. Anode ( fuel electrode)

Solid oxide fuel cells are based on the concept of The fuel electrode must be stable in the reducing
an oxygen ion conducting electrolyte through which environment of the fuel, should be electronically
the oxide ions (O 22) migrate from the air electrode conducting, and must have sufficient porosity to
(cathode) side to the fuel electrode (anode) side allow the transport of the fuel to and the transport of
where they react with the fuel (H 2 , CO, etc.) to the products of fuel oxidation away from the elec-
generate an electrical voltage. Fluorite-structured trolyte / fuel electrode interface where the fuel oxida-
oxide materials such as yttria stabilized zirconia tion reaction takes place, i.e.:
(YSZ), rare earth doped ceria, and rare earth doped
bismuth oxide have been widely investigated as O 22 (s) 1 H 2 (g) 5 H 2 O(g) 1 2e 2 . (3)
electrolytes for a fuel cell [5,6]. Of these materials,
YSZ has been most successfully employed. The The reducing conditions present on the fuel side of
yttrium oxide dopant serves dual roles: it stabilizes an SOFC permit the use of a metal such as nickel
the high temperature cubic phase in zirconia and also (alternately cobalt or ruthenium) as the fuel elec-
generates oxygen vacancies through the following trode. However, the thermal expansion of nickel is
defect reaction written in the Kroger–Vink notation: considerably larger than that of YSZ. Nickel can also
sinter at the cell operating temperature resulting in a
ZrO 2
Y 2 O 3 → 2Y Zr
9 1 3O 3O 1 V ??O (2) decrease in the fuel electrode porosity. These prob-
lems are circumvented by forming a skeleton of YSZ
i.e. an oxygen vacancy is created for every mole of around the nickel particles. The YSZ skeleton pre-
308 S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313

vents sintering of the nickel particles, decreases the the air electrode and also protects the air electrode
fuel electrode thermal expansion coefficient bringing material from the reducing environment of the fuel
it closer to that of the electrolyte, and provides better on the fuel electrode side. The requirements of the
adhesion of the fuel electrode with the electrolyte. interconnection are the most severe of all cell
In tubular cells, a 100–150 mm thick layer of components and include the following.
nickel / YSZ is applied over the electrolyte by a
two-step process. In the first step, nickel powder (a) Nearly 100% electronic conductivity.
slurry is applied over the electrolyte. In the second (b) Stability in both oxidizing and reducing
step, YSZ is grown around the nickel particles by the atmospheres at the cell operating temperature
same EVD process as used for depositing the since it is exposed to air (or oxygen) on one side
electrolyte. Deposition of a Ni–YSZ slurry over the and fuel on the other.
electrolyte followed by sintering has also yielded (c) Low permeability for oxygen and hydrogen to
anodes that are equivalent in performance to those minimize direct combination of oxidant and fuel
fabricated by the EVD process; use of this non-EVD during cell operation.
process will result in a substantial reduction in the (d) A thermal expansion close to that of the air
cost of manufacturing SOFCs. electrode and the electrolyte.
Fig. 2 shows the microstructure of a cross section (e) Non-reactivity with the air electrode, elec-
of a Siemens Westinghouse SOFC consisting of the trolyte and the electric contact material (e.g.
air electrode, electrolyte and the fuel electrode. nickel).

2.4. Interconnection To satisfy these requirements, doped lanthanum
chromite is used as the interconnection material.
Interconnection, in the form of a 9-mm-wide strip Lanthanum chromite is a p-type conductor; its
along the cell length, serves as the electric contact to conductivity is due to small polaron hopping from

Fig. 2. Microstructure of a cross-section of a Siemens Westinghouse solid oxide fuel cell.
S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313 309

room temperature to 14008C at oxygen pressures as
low as 10 218 atm. The conductivity is enhanced as
lower valence ions (e.g. Ca, Mg, Sr, etc.) are
substituted on either the La 31 or the Cr 31 sites. For
the Siemens Westinghouse tubular SOFC, the inter-
connection is deposited in the form of an |85-mm-
thick, 9-mm-wide strip along the air electrode tube
length by plasma spraying [11].

3. Cell operation and performance

The cell tube is closed at one end. For cell
operation, oxidant (air or oxygen) is introduced
through a ceramic injector tube positioned inside the Fig. 3. Voltage–current density plots of a typical 2.2 cm diameter
cell. The oxidant is discharged near the closed end of cell.
the cell and flows through the annular space formed
by the cell and the coaxial injector tube. Fuel flows
on the outside of the cell from the closed end and is seawater mist, some voltage losses occur but these
electrochemically oxidized while flowing to the open can be entirely attributed to water vapor; most of the
end of the cell generating electricity. At the open end salt passes through the cell with only minimal
of the cell, the oxygen-depleted air exits the cell and deposition on the inside of the air electrode tube.
is combusted with the partially depleted fuel. Typi- On the fuel side, addition of up to 5000 ppm
cally, 50 to 90% of the fuel is utilized in the ammonia (NH 3 ) had no adverse effect on SOFC
electrochemical cell reaction. Part of the depleted operation for up to 2500 h of testing; ammonia
fuel is recirculated in the fuel stream and the rest actually acts as fuel increasing the cell voltage. The
combusted to preheat incoming air and / or fuel. The addition of 1 ppm HCl also did not have any
exhaust gas from the fuel cell is at 600 to 9008C detectable effect. However, the addition of 1 ppm
depending on the operating conditions. H 2 S to the fuel resulted in about a 10% drop in cell
A large number of cells have been electrically voltage during the first 24 h and a declining slope in
tested for up to about 25 000 h. These cells perform voltage versus time curve thereafter. On removal of
satisfactorily for extended periods of time under a H 2 S from the fuel, most of the lost voltage is
variety of operating conditions with less than 0.1% recovered indicating the deleterious effect of H 2 S in
per 1000 h performance degradation. The voltage– the fuel to be reversible.
current characteristics of commercial prototypic 2.2- The tubular SOFCs have also shown the ability to
cm diameter, 150-cm active length cells at 800, 900, be thermally cycled to room temperature from
and 10008C with 89% H 2 111% H 2 O fuel (85% fuel 10008C over 100 times without any mechanical
utilization) and air as oxidant (4 stoichs) are shown damage or electrical performance loss. This ability to
in Fig. 3. These SOFCs have been found to tolerate sustain thermal cycles is essential for any SOFC
small levels of air- and fuel-side impurities without generator to be commercially viable.
any significant long-term performance problems. The The tubular SOFCs have also been tested at
presence of moisture in air results in only a slight pressures up to 15 atm on hydrogen and natural gas
decrease in voltage due to a small decrease in fuels. Fig. 4 shows the effect of pressure on cell
oxygen partial pressure. With sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ) power output for a 2.2-cm diameter, 150-cm active
impurity in air, no voltage losses occur at con- length cell at 10008C. Operation at elevated
centrations up to 2 ppm, which is about 14 times the pressures yields a higher cell power at any current
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air density due to increased Nernst potential and reduced
quality limit. While operating with air containing cathode polarization, and thereby permits higher
310 S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313

Fig. 4. Effect of pressure on cell power at 10008C.

stack efficiency and greater power output. With
pressurized operation, SOFCs can be successfully
used as replacements for combustors in gas turbines;
such hybrid SOFC–gas turbine power systems are
expected to reach efficiencies approaching 70%, and
thus result in reduced fuel consumption and reduced
capital cost per unit power output.
To reduce the physical size and cost of SOFC
generators, an alternate geometry cell has been
investigated. Such alternate geometry cells combine
all of the advantages of the tubular SOFCs, such as
not requiring high temperature seals, while providing
higher power per unit length and higher volumetric
power density. This new design, referred to as high
power density solid oxide fuel cell (HPD-SOFC),
has closed ends similar to the tubular design that
provide integral air return paths for air to flow the
entire length of the cell from the closed to the open
end. The HPD-SOFC departs from the tubular design
in that it is flattened and incorporates ribs in the air
electrode that act as bridges for current flow. Fig. 5
compares the current paths in tubular and HPD-
SOFCs. The ribs reduce the current path length,
which in turn reduces the internal resistance of the
Fig. 5. A comparison of the current path in a tubular SOFC and in
cell. The presence of the ribs, due to the decreased an HPD-SOFC.
internal resistance of the cell, also allows use of
thinner air electrodes which reduces the air electrode higher polarization). The ribs also form air channels
polarization (a thicker air electrode results in a that eliminate the need for full length air injector
higher diffusion path for oxygen from the gas phase tubes.
to the air electrode / electrolyte interface resulting in A comparison of the theoretically predicted and
S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313 311

Fig. 6. Comparison of theoretical and actual performance for the tubular SOFC and the HPD-SOFC on a stack volume basis.

actual performance of a tubular SOFC and an HPD- length cells (with EVD electrolyte, EVD fuel elec-
SOFC on a stack volume basis is shown in Fig. 6. trode, and plasma sprayed interconnection), were
The higher performance of the HPD-SOFC on a built and operated. One system was operated at the
stack volume basis results from the decreased resist- Southern California Edison Company’s Highgrove
ance and tighter packing of the cells compared to the Generating Station in Grand Terrace (near San
tubular SOFC. However, while the predicted peak Bernardino), California, under a program with the
power density for an HPD-SOFC is 0.43 W/ cm 3 , the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research
actual peak power density obtained so far in pre- Projects Agency (ARPA). In addition to the SOFC
liminary experiments has been 0.28 W/ cm 3 . The generator, this system also consisted of a logistic fuel
difference between the predicted and the actual peak processor, located external to the SOFC stack,
power density is thought to be due to larger polariza- enabling the system to operate on either natural gas
tion losses at the air electrode / electrolyte interface. or on reformate from a logistic fuel (DF-2 diesel or
Work on the optimization of the air electrode / elec- JP-8 jet turbine fuel). This system was successfully
trolyte interface in HPD-SOFCs to obtain decreased operated for 5582 h before the project completion in
polarization losses is underway. early 1996; 766 h on jet turbine fuel, 1555 h on
diesel fuel, and 3261 h on natural gas. During this
time, the system endured five thermal cycles to room
4. SOFC power generation systems temperature, produced up to 27 kW on each of the
three fuels, and showed no evidence of performance
Since 1984, successively larger size SOFC power degradation. In January 1998, without any modi-
generation systems have been designed, built, and fications to the SOFC generator, the system was
tested. The design and operation of these systems restarted on natural gas at the National Fuel Cell
have been described previously [12]. Recently, two Research Center at the University of California,
25 kW systems, each consisting of 576 50-cm active Irvine.
312 S.C. Singhal / Solid State Ionics 135 (2000) 305 – 313

The other system, built for a consortium of Osaka pressure with a 50 kW microturbine generator. It is
Gas and Tokyo Gas, completed 13 194 h of success- expected to achieve an electrical efficiency of 57%
ful operation on desulfurized natural gas with |0.1% (net AC / LHV).
per 1000 h of performance degradation. During this
period, the unit achieved 25 kW of power output and
endured 10 thermal cycles to ambient temperature.
A 100 kW SOFC power generation system began 5. Summary
operation in December 1997 in The Netherlands
under a program with a consortium of Dutch and High temperature solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)
Danish utilities (EDB / ELSAM). This system is provide a highly efficient, pollution-free power gene-
installed and operated in Westervoort near Arnhem, ration technology. Their performance has been con-
at a district heating system owned by NUON, one of firmed by successful operation in several atmos-
the group of five Dutch gas and electricity dis- pheric pressure power generation systems of up to
tribution utilities which belong to the EDB consor- 100 kW size. Electrical generation efficiencies of
tium. The system employs 1152 state-of-the-art cells over 70% are possible in pressurized SOFC–gas
(2.2 cm diameter, 150 cm active length); these cells turbine combined cycle power systems. Atmospheric
are prototypic of the cells that are planned to be used and pressurized solid oxide fuel cell based power
in commercial SOFC generators. The system is systems are ideal distributed power generation sys-
currently delivering over 100 kW AC to the grid at tems – reliable, clean, quiet, environmentally friend-
an efficiency of 43% (AC / LHV). In addition, it is ly, and fuel conserving.
producing |85 kW of hot water for the local district
heating system, yielding a total fuel effectiveness (at
100 kW AC) of 73%. The maximum power output of Acknowledgements
the system is 160 kW net AC. Such atmospheric
SOFC systems with electrical generation efficiencies The development of the SOFC technology is
(AC / LHV) in the 45–50% range are ideally suited supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE),
for distributed power generation and cogeneration. the Gas Research Institute (GRI), and various utility
The systems described above have been operated and commercial sources. The pressurized SOFC
at 1 atm pressure. Elevated pressure SOFCs in testing effort is supported by Ontario Hydro and its
conjunction with a gas turbine (GT) have the po- Canadian funding partners, and New Energy De-
tential to provide still higher power generation velopment Organization (NEDO) of Japan and its
efficiencies. Such hybrid systems can be configured participating electric power companies.
in a number of ways depending upon the turbine
selected and the capacity required. In the simplest
recuperated SOFC / GT configuration, efficiencies of
60–65% can be achieved. If a reheat cycle is used References
with a split shaft turbine, efficiencies of greater than
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