New Materials Show Promise for Developing Affordable, Efficient Fuel Cells


The ceramics and pure precious metals used in today’s fuel cells price this sustainable energy source beyond the average consumer’s reach. To reduce the cost of fuel cells, a scientific team from Nanjing Normal University in Nanjing, China, and DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), in Richland, Washington, are studying materials at the atomic level to gain the knowledge needed to choose the right electrolyte for fuel cells. Using the thin film growth capabilities at EMSL together with their high performance computing capabilities, the team studied the nanoscale, nanosecond interactions of a promising electrolyte: zirconia with scandium atoms added. The scientists found that in comparison to yttrium atoms used in today’s electrolytes, scandium atoms offered less resistance to the movement of oxygen, showing promise as an alternative electrolyte for fuel cells. This research was supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research through the EMSL user program and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences.




Yu, Z.Q., R. Devanathan, W. Jiang, P. Nachimuthu, V. Shutthanandan, L. Saraf, C.M. Wang, S.V.N.T. Kuchibhatla, and S. Thevuthasan. 2010. “Integrated Experimental and Modeling Study of Ionic Conductivity of Scandia-Stabilized Zirconia Thin Films.” Solid State Ionics 181:367-371.