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Cell3Ditor Project Uses Ceramics 3D Printing to Produce SOFC Fuel Cells

Led by the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC), the main goal of the Cell3Ditor project is the development of a 3D printing technology for the industrial production of SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cells) stacks by covering research and innovation in all the stages of the industrial value chain. The 3D printed SOFC stacks will be cost-effective and flexible for commercial applications.

All-ceramic joint-free SOFC stacks with embedded functionality (fluidics and current collection) will be fabricated in a two-step process (single-step printing and single-step sintering) to reduce in energy, materials and assembly costs while simplifying the design for manufacturing and the time to market.

The development of the 3D printer and SLA slurries for the Cell3Ditor project will be headed by 3DCeram, based on Limoges, France. The company has been manufacturing ceramic parts with SLA since 2005 (around 10,000 parts per year). In 2011, the company developed its own printer technology, which started selling in 2014.

3DCeram has participated in different research and industrial projects to develop SLA processing for the fabrication of heat exchangers for Air Liquide or complex structure and wash coats of PAACS catalyst. Recently, 3DCeram worked on the Rapid project (French army) to couple ceramic 3D printing and ink deposit. This strong background on manufacturing and slurry formulation together with recent innovation actions in the line of hybridize their machine will be remarkable inputs to feed into the Cell3Ditor project.

A solid oxide fuel cell (or SOFC) is an electrochemical conversion device that produces electricity directly from oxidizing a fuel. Fuel cells are characterized by their electrolyte material; the SOFC has a solid oxide or ceramic electrolyte. Advantages of this class of fuel cells include high efficiency, long-term stability, fuel flexibility, low emissions, and relatively low cost. The largest disadvantage is the high operating temperature which results in longer start-up times and mechanical and chemical compatibility issues.

As explained in a review paper published by prestigious journal Energy and Environmental Science from the Royal Society of Chemistry, three dimensional printing technologies represent a revolution in the manufacturing sector because of their unique capabilities for increasing shape complexity while reducing waste material, capital cost and design for manufacturing.

However, the application of 3D printing technologies for the fabrication of functional components or devices is still an almost unexplored field due to their elevated complexity from the materials and functional points of view. The use of 3D printing technologies in the energy and environmental applications sectors is of special interest since the related devices usually involve expensive advanced materials such as ceramics or composites, which present strong limitations in shape and functionality when processed with classical manufacturing methods.

Recent advances regarding the implementation of 3D printing for energy and environmental applications will bring competitive advantages in terms of performance, product flexibility and cost, which will drive a revolution in this sector.

The Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) is a research institution under the trust of different governmental and private organizations, including some of the world-leading companies in the energy sector (REPSOL, ALSTOM, GAS NATURAL, etc). The group on Nanoionics and Fuel Cells, which coordinates the Cell3Ditor proposal, holds experience in the industrial fabrication and characterization of solid oxide cells for electrolysis and power generation by means of classical ceramic production techniques.

The Energy Economics group focused on LCA analysis and energy markets and policies (recent experience in LCA for solid oxide cells in the project SAFARI and SAPIENS, FP7-FCH-JU-2012-1-325323 and FP7-FCH-JU-2011-1-303415) will also contribute to increase the background of the consortium of the Cell3Ditor project.


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