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New Material Boosts Efficiency of Next-Gen Ceramic Fuel Cells

Image Credits: ANSTO, Press Release

ANSTO has collaborated with scientists from the Tokyo Institute of Technology in studying a promising proton conductor for advanced ceramic fuel cells. Recently published in Communication Materials, a research team led by Prof Masatomo Yashima highlighted the exceptional properties of a newly discovered hexagonal perovskite-related oxide called Ba2LuAlO5.

The material exhibited remarkably high proton conductivity without requiring any additional chemical alterations. Molecular dynamics simulations were employed to uncover the underlying mechanisms behind this phenomenon. These valuable insights could potentially lead to the development of safer and more efficient energy technologies.

Prof Max Avdeev, the Neutron diffraction group manager at ANSTO’s Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering and a co-author of the paper, explained that proton conductors are being considered as an alternative to oxide fuel cells for next-generation fuel cells.

The research team at Tokyo Tech, with whom ANSTO has a longstanding collaboration, successfully discovered and characterised a promising new material. To gain insights into the proton transport mechanism and enhance the material’s conductivity, molecular dynamics simulations were conducted using ANSTO’s computing cluster. This knowledge is crucial for further improvements and the development of new compositions in this field.

Scientists worldwide are actively engaged in the development of energy technologies that are environmentally friendly, safe, and highly efficient. Fuel cells have emerged as a particularly promising solution for generating electricity directly through electrochemical reactions, garnering attention since the 1960s.

Nevertheless, conventional fuel cells based on solid oxides suffer from a significant drawback: they require high operating temperatures, typically exceeding 700 °C. In contrast, protonic ceramic fuel cells (PCFCs) utilise specialised ceramics capable of conducting protons instead of oxide anions. This distinctive feature allows PCFCs to operate at substantially lower temperatures, typically ranging from 300 to 600 °C.

However, the current knowledge base includes only a limited number of proton-conducting materials that exhibit reasonable performance.

During their research, the team specifically investigated compounds with a significant number of intrinsic oxygen vacancies when they made the discovery of the new conductor. Through experimental analysis of samples, they observed that this material exhibited remarkable proton conductivity within its bulk at low temperatures, without requiring additional chemical modifications like doping.

By employing molecular dynamics simulations and conducting neutron diffraction measurements, the researchers determined that the oxide had a substantial capacity to absorb water due to its abundant intrinsic oxygen vacancies. The higher water content played a crucial role in enhancing the material’s proton conductivity through various mechanisms.

The electricity market is undergoing a crucial transition, with renewable and clean energy technologies becoming increasingly vital. Australia recognises the significance of innovation in clean energy technology to sustain economic prosperity and contribute to global emission reduction efforts.

The Australian Government is actively supporting clean energy innovation in research, development, demonstration, and deployment. As a participant in Mission Innovation, a global initiative for advancing clean energy technology breakthroughs, Australia is leading the development of a ‘mission’ focused on clean hydrogen. This mission aims to lower hydrogen production and usage costs throughout supply chains.

In addition, the government has invested AU$ 1.4 billion in the development of reliable renewable generation and storage solutions. This investment encompasses various initiatives, including support for the advanced expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme.

Moreover, funds have been allocated to the construction of the Marinus Link, which is the second interconnector across the Bass Strait. This interconnector is crucial for transforming Tasmania’s ambitious Battery of the Nation vision into a tangible reality.

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