The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the materials science and engineering department at the University of Missouri-Rolla $100,000 for the continued development of glass-based seals for solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).
“What we’re doing is developing glasses that will hermetically seal the different components in a fuel cell,” says Dr. Richard Brow, Curators’ Professor of ceramic engineering and chair of UMR’s materials science and engineering department.
In these cells, oxygen ions are transferred through a solid oxide electrolyte material at high temperature to react with hydrogen. The cells are capable of powering auxiliary units in automobiles with greatly improved electrical efficiency.
“We’re close to the point where the technology can be commercialized,” Brow says.
The UMR research team is trying to engineer compatible SOFC materials that can operate over long periods of times at very high temperatures. They start out with a form of glass, which melts to form a seal and then crystallizes as a ceramic. Tests that last several months are conducted on campus to evaluate changes in material properties during sustained heat treatments of up to 800 degrees.
“We’re trying to develop sealing materials that expand and contract with temperature to the same degree as other SOFC materials,” says Brow, who has been working on the problem for several years. “Finding a way to hermetically seal an SOFC is very important. That’s probably why we got funded. The DOE recognizes the importance of solving this problem.”