Print your energy: multi-material ceramic 3D printing for solid oxide fuel cell application

2019 edition

Arianna Pesce

A Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) is a ceramic-based multilayer device that currently involves expensive and time-consuming multi-step manufacturing processes including tape casting, screen printing, firing, shaping and several high-temperature thermal treatments. In addition, these cells are manually assembled into stacks resulting in extra steps for joining and sealing that difficult the standardization and quality control of the final product while introducing weak parts likely to fail. Since current ceramics processing presents strong limitations in shape and extremely complex design for manufacturing (more than 100 steps), industrially fabricated SOFC cells and stacks are expensive and present low flexibility and long time-tomarket.

The goal of this thesis project is the development of 3D printing of ceramics for mass production of SOFC stacks. This technology allows the fabrication of SOFC stacks with unique features such as monolithic architecture, absence of joints and sealing, thinner elements and embedded fluidics and current collection in only two production steps (printing and sintering). This simplification of the fabrication process reduces the cost and initial investment required and increases the SOFC design flexibility the manufacturing reliability. The focus of the proposal is put on i) large scale manufacturing of printable inks and slurries of SOFC ceramic materials; ii) 3D printing of multi-layer multi-material SOFCs; iii) single step sintering of 3D printed SOFC cells and kW-range stacks.

To achieve the required complexity, a SLA-robocasting 3D printer is employed to fabricate the complete SOFC cell or stack (including frame, fluidics or current collection). The machine is implemented with the robocasting technology, in order to couple the multi-material capabilities of the last one, with the surface finish and productivity of the SLA technology.