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Cool operation

Published online 5 August 2015

New fabrication techniques are producing efficient ceramic fuel cells that operate at low temperatures.

Tim Reid

A new promising avenue for more efficient fuel cell vehicles lies in protonic ceramic fuel cells (PCFCs). The only drawback is that current ones can only operate at temperatures of 700 to 1,000 °C. 

Now Jianhua Tong, Ryan O’Hayre and co-workers at the Colorado School of Mines, USA, and The Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, UAE, have improved fabrication methods to build PCFCs that operate very effectively at just 500 °C. 

PCFCs’ edge lies in how they could potentially use hydrocarbon fuels directly and don’t require expensive precious-metal catalysts. And with the new modification, the new cells can yield power densities nearly double that of previous low-temperature PCFCs when fuelled by either hydrogen or methane. 

The researchers adapted a process called solid-state reactive sintering in order to fabricate the anode, electrolyte and cathode of a PCFC in one step, at a low temperature that doesn’t damage the ceramic structure. 

The resulting PCFCs worked best at 500 °C, but also produced measurable power at temperatures as low as 350 °C, and survived 1,400-hour tests without degrading. In their paper, published in Science1, the researchers express hope that their method could “provide a commercially practical, simple, and low-cost approach to scalable solid state ceramic devices.”


  1. Duan, C., Tong, J. et al. Readily processed protonic ceramic fuel cells with high performance at low temperatures. Science (2015).