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Scalable nanostructured membranes for solid-oxide fuel cells


The use of oxide fuel cells and other solid-state ionic devices in energy applications is limited by their requirement for elevated operating temperatures, typically above 800 °C (ref. 1). Thin-film membranes allow low-temperature operation by reducing the ohmic resistance of the electrolytes2. However, although proof-of-concept thin-film devices have been demonstrated3, scaling up remains a significant challenge because large-area membranes less than 100 nm thick are susceptible to mechanical failure. Here, we report that nanoscale yttria-stabilized zirconia membranes with lateral dimensions on the scale of millimetres or centimetres can be made thermomechanically stable by depositing metallic grids on them to function as mechanical supports. We combine such a membrane with a nanostructured dense oxide cathode to make a thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell that can achieve a power density of 155 mW cm–2 at 510 °C. We also report a total power output of more than 20 mW from a single fuel-cell chip. Our large-area membranes could also be relevant to electrochemical energy applications such as gas separation, hydrogen production and permeation membranes.

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Figure 1: Schematic of constraints from KOH etch of silicon.
Figure 2: Image of a 4-inch wafer with grid-supported µSOFCs.
Figure 3: SEM micrographs of grid-supported µSOFCs.
Figure 4: In situ observation of grid morphology during fuel-cell testing and power performance curves.


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The authors thank V. Chun, A. Johnson and K. Kerman for stimulating discussions. The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF; grant no. CCF-0926148). This work was performed in part at the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS), a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which is supported by NSF award no. ECS-0335765.

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M.T. planned, designed and conducted the experiments and data analysis, in collaboration with B.K.L. and S.R. M.T. and S.R. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and their interpretation.

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Correspondence to Masaru Tsuchiya.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Tsuchiya, M., Lai, BK. & Ramanathan, S. Scalable nanostructured membranes for solid-oxide fuel cells. Nature Nanotech 6, 282–286 (2011).

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