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New Semiconducting Material to Improve Fuel Cell Efficiency

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have unexpectedly discovered a new semiconducting material that can improve the efficiency of fuel cells by operating at a significantly lower temperature.

Routing: Oxygen can zigzag or take a circular route (red arrows) through this semiconducting crystal made of strontium (green), chromium (blue), and oxygen (red). Image Courtesy of Nature Communications

Current materials in solid oxide fuel cells require a high temperature of 800°C and must allow diffusion of oxygen.

The PNNL researchers have been trying to make a metal oxide that possessed the properties of metals. They created strontium-chromium oxide that demonstrated the properties of a semiconductor. This material allows easy diffusion of oxygen at a temperature that may help develop better fuel cells.

The researchers tried to produce strontium-chromium oxide in perovskite form – a crystalline form that has helpful electronic properties. In this form, the atoms of strontium, chromium and oxygen stack collectively in a cube, and the strontium and chromium atoms bond to the oxygen atoms.

However, the strontium chromium oxide formed into a rhombus-shaped crystal without many oxygen atoms. These oxygen vacancies formed well-defined planes that allowed outside oxygen to diffuse through at a low 250°C temperature. Oxygen vacancies at high concentrations formed a mesoscale crystalline structure that efficiently transmitted oxygen.

The researchers had been trying to produce metallic SrCrO3, but they ended up creating semiconducting SrCrO2.8. Ultra-pure crystalline films of this material were created and then analyzed using an oxygen-assisted molecular beam epitaxy deposition system at Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

The scientists intend to use the knowledge gained for studying other materials like epitaxial strontium-doped lanthanum chromite, a promising material for visible light harvesting. They also plan to nanofabricate novel heterogeneous catalytic structures. The researchers have reported this study in Nature Communications.

Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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