Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) and electrolysis cells (SOEC) can efficiently convert chemical energy to electricity and electricity to chemical energy (fuel), respectively. As such they show great promise as storage and recovery devices for balancing the electricity grid (matching the variable renewable energy supply to the variable electricity demand) and in establishing a sustainable transportation and chemical production system.

Solid oxide cells (SOC) consist of a number of intimately bonded layers, each with a specific functionality. To enhance performance and power density, typical SOC layers possess complex microstructures, entailing a multi-component porous structure with varying particle sizes in the micron and sub-micron range. Gas composition changes, temperature gradients, interfacial reactions and microstructural and compositional heterogeneities represent some of the complexity of real SOC under realistic operating conditions. This results in complicated degradation patterns with different failure mechanisms appearing at different locations within the SOC. The complexity is such that any modeling attempt can only be an oversimplification of the real situation.

ECoProbe will overcome this major obstacle by setting the basis for in-operando localized probing of SOFC and SOEC with unprecedented spatial resolution. The novel technique of controlled atmosphere high temperature scanning probe microscopy (CAHT-SPM) will be refined and combined with ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS) for the first time. This synergistic methodological approach will provide 1) direct probing of the local electric potential distribution and 2) mapping of the microstructure and surface chemical composition in operating SOC. ECoProbe will thus unravel the complex electrode processes and degradation mechanisms observed in today’s SOC, thereby setting the scientific basis for the next level of SOC development and commercialization.