SOEC post-test analyses show enhanced Zr and/or Sr cation diffusion across the electrolyte layers, delamination and Ni redistribution close to the electrolyte, resulting in a higher degradation rate, compared with solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) conditions. Sample Courtesy of M. Cantoni, EPFL, Lausanne, CH.
Energy Materials

Protecting our Planet

The Future of Fuel Cells

Climate change, energy security, and protecting our environment are common challenges faced by all nations. If we’re going to protect our planet going forward, we need alternatives to current fuel technology. These alternatives can potentially reduce our need for oil and reduce the amount of harmful emissions and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere - making them an attractive replacement for internal combustion engines.  

The challenge of analyzing multi-scale structures

For example, transporting and storing hydrogen is a significant barrier to widespread use in fuel systems. But Several challenges need to be overcome before these fuel cells gain widespread adoption in consumer markets. Another problem is the complex, multi-layered, and multi-material structure of fuel cells. This complexity makes in-depth investigations into their microstructure problematic - unless you have the right tools.

Like current fuel cell technology, the behavior of next-generation alternatives will be determined by their physical and chemical properties across a range of length scales. You’ll need high resolution imaging and precise chemical analysis from the nanometer scale all the way up to the micrometer scale. But to truly understand what makes a fuel cell work (or not), you’ll need to observe microstructural evolutions in situ, without damaging the cell.

Correlative and connected microscopy is the answer

High resolution, correlative microscopy is needed to solve this multi-scale challenge. Also needed are non-destructive operando techniques that allow you to study a fuel cell’s operation in real time. This way, you can gain critical insights into the microstructure, failure modes, and the effects of any defects present. 

ZEISS offers you correlative solutions to this multi-scale and multi-dimensional problem. A comprehensive and connected portfolio provides you with the tools you need to analyze fuel cell materials on different length scales in 2D, 3D and 4D.   

Your Next Step

Learn more about the portfolio of microscopes for fuel cell analysis and how you can acquire non-destructive images at high resolution, so you gain critical insights while maintaining sample integrity. 

Application Images

  • Solid oxide fuel cell segmented anode components and triple point boundary.

    Solid oxide fuel cell segmented anode components and triple point boundary. Imaged with Xradia 810 Ultra (sample width 39 µm).

  • A solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) imaged using the Xradia 810 Ultra X-ray microscope XRM.

    A solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) imaged using the Xradia 810 Ultra X-ray microscope XRM. Three layers of the SOFC are visible: The porous cathode at the top out of lanthanum-strontium-manganite (LSM). The LSM network has been color labeled according to its local thickness. Blue is thin and red is thick. The center of the sample is the electrolyte, made of yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ). Here the voids that exist within the YSZ are visible. One void is labeled orange because it also connects to the pore network in the lower portion of the cell. The anode at the bottom is a porous composite of Nickel and YSZ. YSZ is blue, Nickel is red. Rendering produced with ORS Visual SI Advanced.

  • Surface of an uncoated polymer electrolyte fuel cell microporous layer, imaged on GeminiSEM at 2 kV with the Inlens SE detector.

    Surface of an uncoated polymer electrolyte fuel cell microporous layer, imaged on GeminiSEM at 2 kV with the Inlens SE detector. Individual carbon nanoparticles are agglomerated with binder to form the highly porous structure, while isolated platinum nanoparticles with diameter <10 nm can be seen decorating some regions.

  • SOEC post-test analyses show enhanced Zr and/or Sr cation diffusion across the electrolyte layer

    SOEC post-test analyses show enhanced Zr and/or Sr cation diffusion across the electrolyte layers, delamination and Ni redistribution close to the electrolyte, resulting in a higher degradation rate, compared with solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) conditions. The 3D FIB-SEM/EDS capability enables the measurement of metric and topological properties and directs discrete-element simulations, to first quantify the extent of microstructural changes and second accurately quantify the detrimental effect on the cell performance. Dataset acquired using ZEISS Crossbeam & Atlas 5.

  • 3D rendering of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell membrane electrode assembly.

    3D rendering of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell membrane electrode assembly. The gas diffusion layer fibers are shown in green and magenta, the microporous layers in blue, the catalyst layers in bright yellow, and the electrolyte in dark yellow. Imaged on Xradia Versa.

3D tomogram of a solid oxide fuel cell

Made of the heat resistant composite material Nickel Samaria-doped ceria.
Acquired by ZEISS Crossbeam.


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    • ZEISS Atlas 5

      Characterization of Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cells by Advanced FIB-SEM Tomography

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    • ZEISS Xradia 810 Ultra

      Characterizing Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Microstructures in 3D

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