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A thermally self-sustained micro solid-oxide fuel-cell stack with high power density


High energy efficiency and energy density, together with rapid refuelling capability, render fuel cells highly attractive for portable power generation1,2. Accordingly, polymer-electrolyte direct-methanol fuel cells are of increasing interest as possible alternatives to Li ion batteries3. However, such fuel cells face several design challenges and cannot operate with hydrocarbon fuels of higher energy density. Solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) enable direct use of higher hydrocarbons4,5,6, but have not been seriously considered for portable applications because of thermal management difficulties at small scales, slow start-up and poor thermal cyclability. Here we demonstrate a thermally self-sustaining micro-SOFC stack with high power output and rapid start-up by using single chamber operation on propane fuel. The catalytic oxidation reactions supply sufficient thermal energy to maintain the fuel cells at 500–600 °C. A power output of 350 mW (at 1.0 V) was obtained from a device with a total cathode area of only 1.42 cm2.

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Figure 1: Schematic diagram of the cell configuration and reactor system used in the thermally self-sustaining micro-SOFCs.
Figure 2: The temperature recorded for the half-cells, both with and without a Ru + CeO 2 catalyst layer.
Figure 3: Catalytic properties of Ni + SDC and Ru + CeO 2 towards propane oxidation.
Figure 4: Performance of the thermally self-sustained fuel cells.

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We thank D. Goodwin and Y. Hao of Caltech for discussions.This work is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Microsystems Technology Office. Additional support has been provided by the National Science Foundation through the Caltech Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials.

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Correspondence to Sossina M. Haile.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Discussion

An analysis of the influence of heat recirculation on thermal self-sustainability of the fuel cells is presented. (PDF 9 kb)

Supplementary Figure S1

Impedance spectra of both a single cell and the fuel cell stack are presented, along with a detailed legend. (PDF 27 kb)

Supplementary Figure S2

The conductivity of Sm0.15Ce0.85O1.925 prepared by three different methods is compared. (PDF 29 kb)

Supplementary Figure S3

Images of as-prepared fuel cells are presented. (PDF 188 kb)

Supplementary Figure S4

A thermodynamic analysis of the conditions under which carbon deposition is expected is presented. (PDF 62 kb)

Supplementary Figure S5

These images show the extent of carbon coking on fuel cells exposed to various conditions, and the role of the catalyst in preventing coking. (PDF 55 kb)

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Shao, Z., Haile, S., Ahn, J. et al. A thermally self-sustained micro solid-oxide fuel-cell stack with high power density. Nature 435, 795–798 (2005).

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