MS&E Colloquium - Prof. Dane Morgan, University of Wisconsin
Date: April 09, 2010 from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm EDT
Location: 214 S. W. Mudd
Contact: For further information regarding this event, please contact Chad Gurley by sending email to cg2029@columbia.edu .
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Prof. Dane Morgan
University of Wisconsin

New Approaches to Modeling Fuel Cells: Catalytic Activity and Stability in PEMFC and SOFC

From peak oil to global warming to grid stability, a host of issues suggest that our methods for obtaining energy will have to change dramatically over the next few decades. Fuel cells, which generate energy by forming water from hydrogen and oxygen, offer an exciting alternative to many of our present energy related technologies. For instance, low-temperature Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs) are a promising technology for reducing oil use through enabling hydrogen powered automobiles. On the other hand high-temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) may provide the ability to generate clean and efficient energy for homes and buildings. An outstanding challenge in the design of fuel cells is that they all require catalyzing the oxygen reduction reaction, which process puts severe demands on the cathode materials. 
In this talk I will show how modeling approaches, both continuum and atomistic, can be used to understand and design properties of fuel cell catalysts.

In the first part of the talk I will focus on the issue of PEMFC cathode degradation. PEMFC cathode catalysts are usually made of carbon supported Pt or Pt alloy nanoparticles, which have large surface area and high catalytic activity, but show limited stability under fuel cell operating conditions. We have constructed an electrochemical kinetic model for Pt degradation and demonstrated that surface energy driven instability changes dramatically in the commercially relevant region of 2-5nm diameter particles. We have also discovered that hydrogen crossing over from the anode can significantly alter the mechanisms and extent of cathode degradation. 

In the second part of the talk I will focus on SOFC cathodes, which are typically made of perovskite oxides.  The oxygen reduction reaction on these materials is still poorly understood and I will describe how first-principles quantum mechanical calculations can give insight into perovskite interactions with oxygen, and potentially provide simple descriptors to help design optimal catalytic activity.

Dane Morgan obtained a PhD from U.C. Berkeley in 1998, was a postdoctoral researcher at MIT until 2004, and is now an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison. His work combines thermostatistics and thermokinetics analyses with atomic scale calculations to understand and predict materials properties. A major focus of Morgan's work is energy applications, including fuel cells, batteries, and nuclear materials, but he also works in the areas of high-pressure and aqueous mineral geoscience and defect properties in semiconductors. Morgan has published over 50 papers in the above areas.