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Nat Mater. 2010 Nov;9(11):944-9. doi: 10.1038/nmat2851. Epub 2010 Sep 26.

Measuring fundamental properties in operating solid oxide electrochemical cells by using in situ X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


Photoelectron spectroscopic measurements have the potential to provide detailed mechanistic insight by resolving chemical states, electrochemically active regions and local potentials or potential losses in operating solid oxide electrochemical cells (SOCs), such as fuel cells. However, high-vacuum requirements have limited X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) analysis of electrochemical cells to ex situ investigations. Using a combination of ambient-pressure XPS and CeO(2-x)/YSZ/Pt single-chamber cells, we carry out in situ spectroscopy to probe oxidation states of all exposed surfaces in operational SOCs at 750 °C in 1 mbar reactant gases H(2) and H(2)O. Kinetic energy shifts of core-level photoelectron spectra provide a direct measure of the local surface potentials and a basis for calculating local overpotentials across exposed interfaces. The mixed ionic/electronic conducting CeO(2-x) electrodes undergo Ce(3+)/Ce(4+) oxidation-reduction changes with applied bias. The simultaneous measurements of local surface Ce oxidation states and electric potentials reveal the active ceria regions during H(2) electro-oxidation and H(2)O electrolysis. The active regions extend ~150 μm from the current collectors and are not limited by the three-phase-boundary interfaces associated with other SOC materials. The persistence of the Ce(3+)/Ce(4+) shifts in the ~150 μm active region suggests that the surface reaction kinetics and lateral electron transport on the thin ceria electrodes are co-limiting processes.


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