A new ‘family’ of chemical compounds that could “revolutionise fuel cell technology” and help reduce global carbon emissions has been discovered by UK scientists.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have described their findings of the chemical compounds, collectively known as hexagonal perovskites which could be the key to unlocking the potential of ceramic fuel cells, as the equivalent to discovering “a needle in a haystack”.
Ceramic fuel cells are efficient devices that convert chemical energy into electrical energy and produce low emissions if powered by hydrogen, providing a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
Another advantage of ceramic fuel cells is that they can also use hydrocarbon fuels such as methane, meaning the can act as a ‘bridging’ technology which is an important asset in the move away from hydrocarbons towards cleaner energy sources.
They can be used to power cars and homes but the high temperature of operation results in a short life span. Lowering the working temperature is essential for long-term operation, stability, safety and cost.
“Ceramic fuel cells are highly efficient, but the problem is they operate at really high temperatures, above 800°C. Because of that, they have a shrt lifespan and use expensive components” said Professor Abbie McLaughlin, Director of Research in the University’s Department of Chemistry.
“For a number of years, we’ve been looking for compounds that might overcome these issues in the relatively unexplored hexagonal perovskite family, but there are specific chemical features required which are hard to find in combination.”
“For example, you need a chemical compound with very little electronic conductivity which is stable in both the hydrogen and oxygen environments of the fuel cell.”
“What we have discovered here is a dual proton and oxide ion conductor that will operate successfully at a lower temperature – around 500°C – which solves these problems.”