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Engineers and environmentalists all over the world have always scratched their heads in search to obtain the

benefits of clean electric power without pollution-producing engines or heavy batteries. With the traditional energy sources becoming scarce worrisomely, with rising needs amongst developed nations, there is an urgent need to develop technologies that can help to resolve prevalent energy crisis. There have been some advances towards developing newer and efficient energy saving devices. The next several years will see a massive emergence of hydrogen fuel cells as an alterative energy option in both transportation as well as domestic use. The long-range expectation is that hydrogen will be used as a fuel, produced either from renewable energy, fossils, or nuclear sources, offering an environmentally acceptable and efficient source of energy. So here, I have attempted to compile a collection of articles that discuss one of the most promising technological solutions to the pollution arising from the worlds fossil fuel addiction i.e. the SOFCs.

SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cells) Just imagine powering your laptop from a micro fuel cell, as small as a cube of sugar or consider the possibility of powering your entire home with a power plant, the size of two beer cans. Stunned? Well I am talking about the latest potential breakthrough technology for the low cost production of electricity from currently available fossil fuels, the SOFC's i.e. thin-filmed Solid Oxide Fuel Cells. These cells though small in size have great potential and display phenomenal properties for generating electricity which makes them preeminent as compared to commercial fuel cells being used currently.


DEFINITION: A solid oxide fuel cell is an electrochemical cell in which the energy of a reaction between a fuel, such as liquid hydrogen, and an oxidant such as liquid oxygen, is converted directly and continuously into electrical energy. Fuel cells are generally characterized by their electrolyte material and as the name implies, the SOFC has a solid oxide or ceramic as an electrolyte.
SOFCs are a class of fuel cells characterized by the use of a solid oxide material as the electrolyte.

The SOFCs utilize solid oxide electrolyte to conduct negative oxygen ions from the cathode to the anode. The electrochemical oxidation of the oxygen ions with hydrogen or carbon monoxide thus occurs on the anode side. They operate at very high temperatures, typically between 500 and 1000C. At these temperatures, SOFCs do not require expensive platinum catalyst material, as is currently necessary for lower temperature fuel cells such as PEMFC (proton exchange membrane fuel cells), and are not vulnerable to carbon monoxide catalyst poisoning.

Theoretical efficiency of a SOFC device can exceed 60 percent .The high operating temperature range makes the SOFCs suitable candidates for application with heat engine energy recovery devices or combined heat and power, which further increase overall fuel efficiency. Because of these high temperatures, light hydrocarbon fuels, such as methane, propane and butane can be internally reformed within the anode SOFCs can also be fueled by externally reforming heavier hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel or bio-fuels. Such reformates are mixtures of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, steam and methane, formed by reacting the hydrocarbon fuels with air or steam in a device upstream of the SOFC anode. SOFC power systems can increase efficiency by using the heat given off by the exothermic electrochemical oxidation within the fuel cell for endothermic steam reforming process.


SOFC creates electricity by two electrochemical reactions. First, the anode strips electrons off the hydrogen molecules, making them hydrogen ions. At this point, oxygen molecules flow across the cathode on other side of the cell. As the electrons are stripped from the hydrogen molecules, they flow out through the anode and out of the cell to an electrical load, which lets the energy be used to power a machine. The electrons flowing from the anode to the electrical load are deposited at the cathode, where the oxygen molecules acquire them. When the oxygen ions reach the anode, they react with the hydrogen to form water and other byproducts. More importantly, they release electrons back into the anode, which continues the flow of electricity. Hence, the byproducts of the reactions are water, excess chemicals and also a large amount of heat. This heat in turn can be used to make more electricity, while the water can be used to cool the machine being powered by the fuel cell. SOFCs run at extremely high temperatures, up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. This high temperature is needed for the transfer of the oxygen molecules across the cathode and for the ionization of the molecules.

SOFC TECHNOLOGY Concepts Single cells are combined to form multi-cell units, the fuel cell stack. A number of cell stacking configurations have been researched upon, which include: Self-supporting concepts: The electrolyte forms a structural element of the design. Supported concepts: The electrolyte is deposited as a thin layer onto a porous support. Cells are connected with a highly conducting ceramic or metal called interconnect which may also carry fuel and air distribution channels. Fuel and air are supplied to stacks through manifolds. The total system consists of an air/fuel supply/conditioning unit, the stack, a power conditioning system and a heat recovery system.

Basic Stack Designs Cell designs for SOFC are either a planar geometry where individual cells (anode/electrolyte/cathode layers) can be stacked together to form a stack or a tubular design where the various layers (anode/electrolyte/cathode) are deposited in the form of cylindrical tubes that are then assembled together to form stacks. Three basic stack designs are being developed:

1) The Tubular design (Westinghouse design)

The Tubular design is by far the most advanced SOFC. Tubes up to 1 m in length represent single cells and stacks are formed by stacking the tubes together. The concept is a supported cell design where thin adherent layers are deposited on tubular supports by costly fabrication methods such as electrochemical vapor deposition (EVD) or low pressure plasma deposition.

2) The Planar (Flat Plate Design)

The Planar design is the most common concept under development as its fabrication is potentially the least expensive. Single cells can be produced by conventional ceramic mass production routes such as tape casting and screen printing. The single cells are stacked together and sealed with a high temperature sealing material. Numerous variations of the concept, including external and internal co-flow, counter-flow and cross-flow manifold stacks are
3) Monolithic Design In this design green laminates of air electrode/electrolyte/fuel electrode and interconnect are formed and co-sintered. This eliminates the need for high temperature seals, but requires forming the stack by co-sintering, a rather difficult task considering the different materials involved and microstructure requirements for each layer.

Status of SOFC Development R&D so far conducted both in Japan and abroad has steadily advanced the technology. The impending commercialization of SOFCs as high-efficiency power generating systems is highly anticipated. NEDO's development efforts, put emphasis on cost reduction as well as securing the reliability of the fuel cells

NEDO has been implementing research on the development of economical, highly reliable, thermal selfsupporting modules which can be bundled and applied to systems for actual use. Elemental research on wider applications is also under way, which aims to expand the scope of solid oxide fuel cells. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is developing tubular, planar and a monolithic/planar hybrid designs and it has constructed 1 kW units for each design. Other players (Siemens, Ceramatec, Fuji Electric, Sanyo, and Sulzer) are developing planar stacks with either metallic or ceramic interconnects and units up to 1 kW have already been constructed.


Combined Heat and Power Units (CHP) Combined Cold and Power Units Air Circulation & Dehumidification Systems Remote Area Power Supplies (RAPS) Auxiliary Power Units (APU) Secure Power for Telecommunication

Challenges Solid oxide fuel cells have enormous potential provided solutions to the problems of interconnect materials and seals, cost competitive fabrication and long term stability can be found. Efforts are currently under way in reducing the operating temperature and manufacturing cool SOFCs which would assist in reducing production costs.

The emergence of this technology is yet one more example of the new wave of portable power technologies we are witnessing today. It is truly an exciting time for this technology, and its development appears to be quite rapid. The sooner these technologies can be commercialized and brought to market as consumer products, the better; because today's power technology (batteries) is woefully inadequate.



International Ceramic Monographs Vol. 1 no. 2, pp. 761-65.

Steele, B.C.H., Heinzel, A. "Materials for fuel-cell technologies"

Mike Adams, the Health Ranger NEDO, Projects for the Development of New Energy, Energy Conservation and Environmental Technologies. www.fuelcellsforpower.com National Research Council Canada(www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca)

Singhal, S., Kendall, K. High Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.