Solid acids as fuel cell electrolytes

  • Haile S
  • Boysen D
  • Chisholm C
 et al. 
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Abstract

Fuel cells are attractive alternatives to combustion engines for electrical power generation because of their very high efficiencies and low pollution levels. Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells are generally considered to be the most viable approach for mobile applications. However, these membranes require humid operating conditions, which limit the temperature of operation to less than 100 degrees C; they are also permeable to methanol and hydrogen, which lowers fuel efficiency. Solid, inorganic, acid compounds (or simply, solid acids) such as CsHSO4 and Rb3H(SeO4)2 have been widely studied because of their high proton conductivities and phase-transition behaviour. For fuel-cell applications they offer the advantages of anhydrous proton transport and high-temperature stability (up to 250 degrees C). Until now, however, solid acids have not been considered viable fuel-cell electrolyte alternatives owing to their solubility in water and extreme ductility at raised temperatures (above approximately 125 degrees C). Here we show that a cell made of a CsHSO4 electrolyte membrane (about 1.5 mm thick) operating at 150-160 degrees C in a H2/O2 configuration exhibits promising electrochemical performances: open circuit voltages of 1.11 V and current densities of 44 mA cm-2 at short circuit. Moreover, the solid-acid properties were not affected by exposure to humid atmospheres. Although these initial results show promise for applications, the use of solid acids in fuel cells will require the development of fabrication techniques to reduce electrolyte thickness, and an assessment of possible sulphur reduction following prolonged exposure to hydrogen.

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