Analysis of the carbon anode in direct carbon conversion fuel cells

International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Volume 37, Issue 24, December 2012, Pages 19319-19328.

John F. Cooper, J. Robert Selman

John F. Cooper Consulting, LLC, 1971 Arrowhead Drive, Oakland, CA 94611, USA

Dept of Chem and Biol Eng, Illinois Institute of Technology, 10 W. 33rd St., Chicago, Il 60616, USA.



The total electrochemical efficiency of a direct carbon fuel cell with molten carbonate electrolyte is dominated by the product of coulombic efficiency (electron yield (n) per carbon atom, divided by 4) and voltaic efficiency (ratio of cell voltage to theoretical voltage). The voltaic efficiency is acceptably high (70–80%) for many atomically-disordered carbon materials. High coulombic efficiency is more difficult to achieve but ranges from below 50% at low current densities in porous material to 100% in certain monolithic and particulate carbon anodes at high current densities where substantially pure CO2 is the product gas. We find evidence for two competing anode reactions associated with distinct low- and high polarization segments, respectively: (1) a charge-transfer controlled, linear–polarization reaction occurring predominately within pores, proportional to specific area, and tending toward low efficiency by co-production of CO and CO2; and (2) a flow-dependent reaction occurring on the exterior surface of the anode, requiring > 100 mV polarization and tending to produce CO2. Based on this interpretation, high electrochemical efficiency of a carbon fuel cell is expected with anodes made of atomically disordered (“turbostratic”) carbon that have negligible porosity, or with anodes of disordered carbon for which interior pores are intentionally blocked with an impervious solid material, such as an inert salt or readily carbonized pitch.

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Additional Information

Carbon fuel cells and batteries produce electric power from elemental carbon derived from fossil or renewable biomass resources.   We believe this paper helps  resolve a long-standing issue: why some studies claim 70-80% total conversion efficiency, while others report much lower efficiencies .  It defines a route to high efficiency and power through filling pores with inert material, which forces the reaction to occur efficiently on the outer surface of fuel elements.  Alternatively, small porous particles of high external surface-area to volume-ratio may be used.  We seek partnerships to develop two applications: (1) batteries for off-grid use; and (2) fuel cells to convert the carbon byproducts of waste pyrolysis operations.  More information may be found on our web site:


Analysis of the carbon anode in direct carbon conversion fuel cells

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