USC, Clemson research may transform battery and fuel-cell efficiency

Scientists from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University recently made a discovery that has the potential to dramatically improve the efficiency of batteries and fuel cells.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications and includes improving the transport of oxygen ions, a key factor in converting chemical energy into electricity.

“This breakthrough will pave the path to fabricate next-generation energy conversion and storage devices with significantly enhanced performance, increasing energy efficiency and making energy environmentally benign and sustainable,” Fanglin Chen, a mechanical engineering professor in the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing, said.

The research team studied gadolinium doped ceria (GDC), a well-known material that transports ions and is currently used as a solid oxide cell electrolyte. A greatly enhanced conductivity in GDC was demonstrated through the use of additives and a “smart” chemical reaction, resulting in a faster and more efficient conversion into electricity.

"In order to make ‘clean’ grain boundaries and avoid the segregation of (gadolinium) at the interface, we have added an electronic conductor, cobalt iron spinel (CFO), resulting in a composite structure,” Kyle Brinkman, a materials science and engineering professor at Clemson University and co-corresponding author of the work, said. “The CFO reacts with the excess (gadolinium) present in the grain boundary of GDC to form a third phase. It was found that this new phase could also serve as an excellent oxygen ionic conductor.”

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