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Enabling mass market adoption of SOFC fuel cell systems

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - BestinclassSOFCs (Enabling mass market adoption of SOFC fuel cell systems)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Switching to cleaner energy production is one of the main priorities to decrease global warming process and to reduce CO2, NOx, nanoparticles and other types of pollutions due to old fossil fuels technologies. And solid oxide cell technology is an important part of future energy industry offering extremely high electrical efficiency (75.3% electrical efficiency has been reached with Elcogen stack based on optimised Elcogen cells), fuel flexibility (natural gas, biogas, hydrogen, ammonia, different hydrocarbons, etc.), reduced emissions (or even zero-emissions in case of pure hydrogen or ammonia as a fuel), and a possibility to operate in electrolysis (SOEC), co-electrolysis (co-SOEC) or reversible mode (rSOC) to produce fuel and/or to store excess of energy.

One of the major barriers in adoption fuel cell systems to the market is high price of cells. As solid oxide cell is a core of the technology, it should be very efficient and cheap to make SOC systems competitive. Having the most efficient industrially manufactured cells on the market, Elcogen aims to reduce considerably the cost of a single unit cell after implementing the results from the BestInClassSOFCs project. The project covers the whole development cycle, from technical development of each layer of cell and manufacturing process design and optimisation, to commercialisation and testing of the optimised product together with customers. As a result, 3rd generation cell design with improved mechanical and electrochemical properties using optimised manufacturing techniques will be developed and adopted by Elcogen to provide low-cost high efficiency solid oxide cells to stack and system manufacturers.
The whole project duration was 3 years. Executing the project allowed Elcogen to develop a detailed scale-up plan for mass production of solid oxide cells with enhanced power output and lifetime, at the same time considerably reducing the manufacturing cost of a single cell. Based on the project’s goals and its structure, 4 specific objectives were identified as targets to be reached at the end of the project.

1) Development of thinner cell design.
The new cell generation has been developed in order to reduce amount of raw materials compared to the previous generations, but also to increase its manufacturing speed. As a result, thinner cell with optimised microstructure shows 40% reduction in raw materials, is more than 2 times stronger mechanically, and also has higher electrochemical performance with no diffusion limitations even at high current density and fuel utilisation.
Also, a completely new approach was investigated for future factory with unique manufacturing technique applying ecological water-based compositions at single step co-casting machine, showing promising results in terms of quality and scalability.

2) Increasing the power density of a cell, with a particular focus on development of an innovative ALD deposition process to be applied for a barrier layer production.
The main goal of the specific objective is to optimise cells for operation at higher power density, and implement ALD process for barrier layer at industrial scale was one of the main tasks to achieve it. It improves electrochemical performance of single cell and increase durability for longer lifetime. Moreover, optimized ALD process reduces raw material consumption and decreases overall cell manufacturing time. Experimental cells with ALD nanolayer showed very high efficiency starting already at 600 ˚C, with much smaller area specific resistance. No defects, delamination, cracks, zirconate deposition or other defects were observed after fuel cell production with this type of barrier when using a large scale industrial ALD equipment. But even without ALD process, improved Elcogen solid oxide cells have been already tested and validated at operation going up to 1.56 W/cm2, showing potential to be used already today in different kind of applications.

3) Performing analysis and factory design for production scale-up.
In order to ramp up manufacturing process up to 2 million cells a year, Elcogen started a thorough analysis of current manufacturing method to identify the main problems and bottlenecks. Based on this study, the design of the new factory has been initiated, together with testing and validation of new equipment and processes to be used in the new factory.
This work is performed by Elcogen in tight collaboration with the best industrial equipment manufacturer partners to design automated production line while keeping extremely high quality of the product and total yield above 95%.

4) Carrying out pilot testing and preparing commercialisation.
The work was focused on pilot testing of new cells and commercialisation plan for the next years. This task was fulfilled together with strategic partners to validate optimised cells on system level. For that, several pilot projects have been selected and supported by Elcogen to prove high efficiency and low degradation level of cells. The projects covered the main areas of application: starting from fuel cell mode using natural gas and biogas, and going to hydrogen production in electrolysis mode or even using the cells for reversible operation. The results were disseminated to the public to show performance and robustness of Elcogen’s products, but also to prove a huge potential and competitiveness of the solid oxide cell technology.
As one of the major obstacles in implementation of solid oxide cell systems into the market is high cost, with the help of the BestInClassSOFCs project Elcogen aims to overcome this problem and to propose to its customers cheap and reliable mass product. Moreover, the next cell generation will offer even higher efficiency compared to the current cell type, with the highest electrical performance on the market.

In order to show the potential of the technology to the public, Elcogen is participating in several projects implementing the solid oxide cell technology not only in CHP systems (Combined Heat and Power), but also in electrolysis and energy storage areas to increase penetration of the renewable power sources.

It will give a positive vision on alternative energy technologies and fuel cells in particular, helping to accelerate adoption of such systems for various applications. Moreover, it will create more high-qualified jobs within Europe, to support economies and people wealth.
Fuel cells generate no pollution such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur oxide (SOx), or particulate matter (PM10) and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50-66% in line with higher electrical efficiency compared to other power generators (or even zero-emission if hydrogen or ammonia are used as fuel). Possibility to operate in electrolysis or reversible mode is also extremely important to build a new ecological society. Thus, this project has a huge socio-economic and ecological impact, being a part of effective weapon against pollutions and global warming processes, for the new cleaner future.
ALD layer deposited on top of electrolyte using industrial scale equipment
Schematic representation and SEM polished cross-section of Elcogen cell multilayer structure
SEM polished cross-section of thin water based sintered half-cell
SEM photos of polished cross-sections of 400-B (a) and 300-C (b) substrates; EIS spectra (c) of 400-
(a) Half-cell after ALD barrier deposition. (b) Comparison of impedance spectra of a standard cell a