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WVU, GE partner on project to increase performance of solid oxide fuel cells

A featured image of Ed Sabolsky

Edward Sabolsky.

Researchers at West Virginia University will partner with their colleagues at GE on a project designed to increase the performance of solid oxide fuel cells.


Edward Sabolsky and Xingbo Liu, from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and John Zondlo, from the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, will partner with researchers at GE Global Research and GE Fuel Cells, LLC, on the project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

SOFCs are an efficient, environmentally friendly way to convert chemical energy from fuel, i.e., hydrogen, coal syngas or natural gas, to electrical energy. The ceramic metal composites that are used to create the anode material, however, can become unstable due to sulfur contamination and oxidation.

According to Sabolsky, GE currently uses a plasma spray technology to make their solid-oxide fuel cells.

“The technology is like a spray gun that melts the ceramic particles at the end of the gun as the particles pass through a super-hot nozzle,” Sabolsky said. “The liquid ceramic hits a porous metal substrate and solidifies. They are able to change the composition over time to build all the layers of the fuel cell.”

The team at WVU will be working to investigate new ceramic materials that would be potentially cheaper, healthier and more stable over long-term use.

“The efficiency of SOFCs is greater than just burning the gas; there are also less emissions,” Sabolsky said. “Currently, the availability of these SOFC systems is limited, with only a few manufacturers worldwide. If we can successfully create an alternative to the materials currently used in the process, we can improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs and down time. These systems would then become more economical and more robust.”

Sabolsky has spent a large portion of his career researching advanced ceramic processing and materials for energy-related applications. Prior to joining the faculty at WVU, he managed the solid oxide fuel cell research group at Nexceris, LLC, formerly NexTech Materials, Ltd., in Columbus, Ohio.

Liu, an innovator in energy storage research, directs WVU’s Center for Electrochemical Energy Systems, which is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of researchers charged with creating technology-to-market strategies for advancing electric storage technologies.

Zondlo specializes in the development of clean coal technology and has been researching ways in which it can be used in SOFCs. He has partnered with Sabolsky on the creation of new SOFC compositions that are resistant to contamination.



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