Advanced analytical electron microscopy applied to Solid Oxide Cell materials and their degradation

Electron microscopy offers a wide range of techniques to study materials. Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy (ESEM), in particular, allows the characterisation of samples at high-temperature using a laser heating stage, and under various gaseous atmospheres leading to direct observation of the sample surface morphology dynamics in conditions that are close to those in real operating devices (i.e. at high temperature in various gases). Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC) operating around 800°C in both oxidising and reducing gases, with proven co-generation efficiencies of 90%, offer very promising solutions in the ongoing energy transition. However, production costs and materials degradation in those demanding operating conditions remain significant barriers to their large-scale deployment. Studying SOFC materials' degradation through a combination of ESEM with other advanced microscopy techniques fulfilled the double aim of demonstrating the power of an ESEM and improving the understanding of SOFC materials' degradation during operation. Two materials from the SOFC stack were selected for degradation case studies at around 800°C in oxidising/reducing gases: coated ferritic steel interconnect and Ni-YSZ anode. The objectives were to explore the parameters' influence (temperature, heating ramp, pressure, gas exposure...), set the boundaries and define the guidelines of the ESEM technique while demonstrating its capabilities. The two different materials sets were selected for their relevance both for the SOFC field and for their different specific characteristics allowing a wide range of experiments to be explored. A specific method for the study of the oxidation of coated steel was developed combining ESEM, Focused Ion Beam (FIB) and Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy (STEM). Post-test segmentation of the in-situ observed images demonstrated the possibility to obtain quantitative data. FIB sample preparation from the exact site of ESEM observation allowed to correlate the underlying microstructure with the in-situ surface observation. Applying this method, oxidation mechanisms of several coatings were characterised and specific behaviours observed and explained such as the appearance of oxide ridges and the behaviour of a cerium barrier layer in case of cobalt-cerium coated steel. The heating ramp speed and the oxidation temperature were demonstrated to be crucial parameters to obtain the desired microstructure. The nitriding pretreatment of interconnect was investigated too and shows promising results for improving the steel oxidation resistance. Another combination of techniques was developed for the study of the Ni-YSZ anode by complementing the ESEM observation with continuous Mass Spectrometer (MS) acquisition. The first reduction of the NiO-YsZ anode was analysed under gas flows of hydrogen and hydrocarbons. Redox cycling effect on the anode microstructure was investigated and the resulting observations were in line with models from the literature for the reduction and re-oxidation kinetics. Finally, the demonstration of an active solid oxide cell in the microscope operating at more than 700°C under mixed gas paves the way to further possible studies approaching the device's observation in real operating conditions. Limitation of the ESEM techniques are discussed and recommendations for further improvements and perspectives given.

Hébert, Cécile
Van Herle, Jan
Lausanne, EPFL

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 Record created 2020-10-09, last modified 2020-10-26

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