University of St Andrews homepage
Professor John Irvine
e-mail: jtsi@st-andrews.ac.uk tel: 01334 463817

Research Interests: Energy, sustainability, fuel cells, SOFC, hydrogen, renewable fuels, solid state chemistry, electrochemistry, ceramics, materials

By 2050 cheap oil will no longer be available and Europe's internal reserves will be exhausted. An increasing proportion of primary energy production will be from renewables such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass possibly supplemented by nuclear, natural gas and coal. We must rely on new energy carriers such as hydrogen, biogas or synfuels and liquid biofuels. These carriers will complement electricity as energy vectors, enabling some degree of energy efficiency optimisation, both on a local and a larger scale. A decentralised electricity generation infrastructure powered by a broad spectrum of renewable and clean technologies with a strong fuel cell component will have been created. The power network will largely be based upon self-contained nodes, each consisting of renewable and/or fuel cell systems. The advantages of this decentralised system arise from lower transmission losses, higher total energy efficiency and improved energy security. These nodes will be supported by a high value network powered by advanced thermal or nuclear systems, hydropower, buffered wind power and fuel cell systems.

Flowchart showing fuel cell placement in new energy economyOur role is to develop high temperature electrochemical technologies to enable the efficient introduction of this new energy economy. We seek to optimise current fuel cell technology improving durability and stability and reducing cost of manufacture to enable widespread introduction. We are developing new anode formulations to enable efficient utilisation of more complex fuels, ranging from natural gas and LPG through biogas to liquid biofuels and biomass. Efficient utilisation of biomass is central to the new energy economy and this will be achieved by a range of mechanisms. Fuel cell technology is a particularly important enabler for biomass utilisation offering high efficiencies of conversion in fairly small unit sizes and is essential to the new distributed energy economy.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cell HRTEM images

HRTEM images (top) of samples from the “La4Srn-4TinO3n+2” series varying from ordered extended planar oxygen excess defects (1, n = 5) through random layers of extended defects (2, n = 8) to disordered extended defects (3, n = 12).

 

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells seem certain to make a significant contribution to the future energy economy in 5-10 years, if good technological progress can be maintained; however, we only see this as one manifestation of this technology. Future development relates to efficient electrolysis, novel systems and carbon neutral fuel production. Efficient electrolysis to produce clean hydrogen is of key importance to the possibility of utilising renewable energy in transport. Similarly reversible fuel cells with careful thermal management can provide good buffering for intermittent power supplies.

 

SELECTED RECENT PUBLICATIONS

  1. A Stable, Easily Sintered Proton Conducting Oxide Electrolyte for Moderate Temperature Fuel Cells and Electrolysers, JTS Irvine, S Tao, Advanced Materials, 18, 2006, 1581-1584.
  2. A symmetrical solid oxide fuel cell demonstrating redox stable perovskite electrodes, DM Bastidas, S Tao and JTS Irvine, J Mater. Chem., 16, 2006, 1603-1605.
  3. Advanced Anodes for High Temperature Fuel Cells, A. Atkinson , S Barnett, R.J. Gorte, J.T.S. Irvine , A.J. McEvoy, M. Mogensen, C. Singhal , J.Vohs, Nature Materials, 2004, 3, 17-27.
  4. A Redox-Stable, Efficient Anode For Solid-Oxide Fuel Cells, S. Tao and J.T.S. Irvine, Nature Materials, 2003, 2, 320-323.
  5. Disruption of extended defects in solid oxide fuel cell anodes for methane oxidation JC Ruiz-Morales1, J Canales-Vasquez, C Savaniu, D Marrero-Lopez, Wuzong Zhou and JTS Irvine, Nature, 439, 2006, 568-571.
  EaStCHEM masthead