Investigations into the interactions between sulfur and anodes for solid oxide fuel cells
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Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are electrochemical devices based on solid oxide electrolytes that convert chemical energy in fuels directly into electricity via electrode reactions. SOFCs have the advantages of high energy efficiency and low emissions and hold the potential to be the power of the future, especially for small power generation systems (1-10 kW). Another unique advantage of SOFCs is the potential to directly utilize hydrocarbon fuels such as natural gas through internal reforming. However, all hydrocarbon fuels contain some sulfur compounds, which transform to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the reforming process and dramatically degrade the performance of the existing SOFCs. In this study, the interactions between sulfur contaminant (in the form of H2S) and the anodes for SOFCs were systematically investigated in order to gain a fundamental understanding of the mechanism of sulfur poisoning and ultimately to achieve rational design of sulfur-tolerant anodes. The sulfur poisoning behavior of the state-of-the-art Ni-YSZ cermet anodes was characterized using electrochemical measurements performed on button cells (of different structures) under various operating conditions, including H2S concentration, temperature, cell current density/terminal voltage, and cell structure. Also, the mechanisms of interactions between sulfur and the Ni-YSZ cermet anode were investigated using both ex situ and in situ characterization techniques such as Raman spectroscopy. Results suggest that the sulfur poisoning of Ni-YSZ cermet anodes at high temperatures in fuels with ppm-level H2S is due not to the formation of multi-layer conventional nickel sulfides but to the adsorption of sulfur on the nickel surface. In addition, new sulfur-tolerant anode materials were explored in this study. Thermodynamic principles were applied to predict the stability of candidate sulfur-tolerant anode materials and explain complex phenomena concerning the reactivity of candidate materials with hydrogen sulfide. The enhanced sulfur tolerance for some candidate anode materials such as (Gd2Ti1.4Mo0.6O7) is attributed to the transition of the surface from metal oxides to sulfides (i.e., MoS2), which enhances the catalytic activity and increases the number of reaction sites.