Mechanistic understanding of solid oxide cell (SOC) electrode aging using multiscale characterisation

Case Study

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Solid oxide cells (SOCs) are the cleanest and most efficient technology among the electrochemical energy conversion devices. This project has significantly improved our understanding of the air electrode degradation mechanism solving issues in SOC durability and reliability and assisting development of a lifetime prediction model, minimising the barriers to commercialisation. £113,303.79 of Royce ICP funding was awarded to the University of Manchester to complete this project. 

The legally binding requirement of UK Net Zero Strategy is to accelerate towards a net zero carbon and sustainable future to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Solid oxide cells (SOC) have the potential to play a vital role in reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and be one of the solutions to the threat of global warming due to their low emission, high conversion efficiency and low cost. Ceres Power is one of the leading CleanTech companies in the UK with the aspiration to solve climate change for a net zero carbon world through its fuel cell and electrolyser technologies.

The main objective of this project was to understand the degradation mechanism of SOC air electrodes; and develop a novel model for lifetime degradation prediction of individual SOC cells. Multiscale characterisation of Ceres cells at different stages of life using HAXPES, NanoXCT (air electrode porosity on the right), NanoSIMS and STEM has helped understand the poison distribution and deposition patterns as a function of running time and location in the cell. This knowledge has assisted development of a reliable lifetime prediction model on cell degradation mechanisms under the influence of poisons.

Ceres with experience in the manufacturing fuel cells and electrolysis solutions, lacks means of characterising and imaging its technology at microstructural level to develop next generation step changing products. The availability of Royce funding provided access to the multiscale characterisation facilities and corresponding expertise of the world leading scientists based at the University of Manchester.

The outputs of this project will be incorporated into a technology, validated to a greater depth, with improved customers’ confidence. With better reliability and robustness of Ceres technology, new opportunities arise for more sales and new markets to be penetrated, ultimately contributing to accelerating the Sustainable Net-Zero Innovation in UK businesses, and globally.

“This project has elucidated that the solid oxide cell degradation mechanism occurs via a completely different pathway that was previously unknown. Use of the advanced characterisation facilities at the University of Manchester and with support from the characterisation experts there, the acquired knowledge will be key to the foundation of the next generation cell development, impacting highly towards achieving the net zero objectives of the UK.”

Dr Santanu Ray
Ceres Power Limited, Principal Scientist



Ceres Power (Dr Ray) and UoM (Dr Moore) had previously conducted experiments to understand the potential of the NanoSIMS to characterise SOCs and have developed a good working relationship which ensured that the project ran smoothly. The PI of this project, Dr Katie Moore, is the academic lead for the NanoSIMS facility and deputy director of the Henry Mosely X-ray CT facility and managed and supervised the project at the University of Manchester using her extensive experience in multiscale and correlative imaging. Academic Co-Is on this project were Professor Sarah Haigh, Director of the EM facility at UoM, and Dr Tim Burnett, Director of the NXCT facility who supported the STEM and NanoXCT work respectively. The delivery of this project would not have been a success without the incredibly valuable hard work and significant expertise of the senior technical specialists, technical specialists and post-doctoral researchers at the University of Manchester: Dr Ben Spencer (HAXPES), Dr Kexue Li (NanoSIMS), Dr Elisabeth Francis (STEM), Dr Tristian Lowe (NanoXCT) and Dr Matthew Curd (FIB preparation).