Altair Nanotechnologies Advances Fuel Cell Program

Altair Nanotechnologies has made significant advancements in its solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) development program, the company said Friday.

RENO, Nevada 2002-02-19 [SolarAccess.com] Altair Nanotechnologies has made significant advancements in its solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) development program, the company said Friday. According to Altair’s president Dr. William P. Long, gas channeling features have been incorporated into the all-ceramic, solid state fuel core structure allowing movement of air, fuel and exhaust gases to and from individual cells. Additionally, the density of the electrolyte has been increased to the 92 to 95 percent range further enhancing cell performance. To date, as many as 12 single layers, alternating electrode-electrolyte-electrode were monolithically formed into an all-ceramic core structure. This compares to three SOFC cores in one solid-state structure. No degradation of core structure materials from thermal cycling (heating and cooling) has been observed to date. “The program has moved along more quickly than anticipated,” Long said. “We have scheduled testing ‘light-off’ for the near future. This series of tests will utilize a working, bench scale fuel cell made entirely from Altair produced nanomaterials. The test apparatus is near completion at Altair.” Altair has scheduled a quarterly review meeting with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for February 21, 2002 to discuss the status of its sponsored research agreement. MIT research is developing catalyst systems for the Altair fuel cell to enable efficient fuel conversion for a variety of hydrocarbon fuels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), fuel cells are being installed commercially today but high costs have largely limited their usefulness to customers that demand premium-quality, highly-reliable onsite power. Most fuel cells are custom manufactured and assembled one at a time, a labor intensive and expensive operation. During August 2001, the DOE announced a $500 million effort to produce breakthrough fuel cells that will overcome current cost barriers. DOE believes that developing an all-solid-state fuel cell “building block” that can be mass manufactured is one of the best ways to dramatically lower costs, much like advances in solid state technology that have cut the costs of computers and other electronic devices. Altair’s objective is to to solve cost and technical problems associated with SOFCs. To achieve these objectives, Altair has developed an all-solid-state ceramic fuel cell structure utilizing commodity-based materials. Based on current prices of the required materials, Altair estimates its cost to manufacture the fuel cell to be well within the economic parameters cited by the DOE. One of the major technical problems with SOFC’s is a mismatch between the anode and cathode substrate material and the material in the electrolyte. After several heating and cooling cycles the difference in thermal expansion coefficients cause the materials to break apart, destroying the fuel cell. Altair’s R&D team appears to have solved the material mismatch problem by using its 20-nanometer yttria stabilized zirconia (YSZ) to form the electrolyte, and with different thermal and chemical controls, the substrates for the anode and cathode as well. Problems related to catalyst life and reaction controls are being addressed by a parallel research program funded by Altair at MIT under the direction of Professor Jackie Y. Ying.
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