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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Three phase boundary length and effective diffusivity in modeled sintered composite solid oxide fuel cell electrodes Metcalfe, Thomas Craig


Solid oxide fuel cells with graded electrodes consisting of multiple composite layers yield generally lower polarization resistances than single layer composite electrodes. Optimization of the performance of solid oxide fuel cells with graded electrode composition and/or microstructure requires an evaluation of both the three phase boundary length per unit volume and the effective diffusion coefficient in order to provide insight into how these properties vary over the design space. A numerical methodology for studying the three phase boundary length and effective diffusivity in composite electrode layers with controlled properties is developed. A three dimensional solid model of a sintered composite electrode is generated for which the mean particle diameter, composition, and total porosity may be specified as independent variables. The total three phase boundary length for the modeled electrode is calculated and tomographic methods are used to estimate the fraction of this length over which the electrochemical reactions can theoretically occur. Furthermore, the open porosity of the modeled electrode is identified and the effective diffusion coefficient is extracted from the solution of the concentration of the diffusing species within the open porosity. Selected example electrode models are used to illustrate the application of the methods developed, and the resulting connected three phase boundary length and diffusion coefficients are compared. A significant result is the need for thickness-specific effective diffusivity to be determined, rather than the general volume averaged property, for electrodes with porosity between the upper and lower percolation thresholds. As the demand for current increases, more of the connected three phase boundaries become active, and therefore a greater fraction of the electrode layer is utilized for a given geometry, resulting in a higher apparent effective diffusivity compared to the same electrode geometry operating at a lower current. The methods developed in this work may be used within a macroscopic electrode performance model to investigate optimal designs for solid oxide fuel cell electrodes with stepwise graded composition and/or microstructure.

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