Researchers manipulate cubic zirconia to improve conductivity in fuel cells

May 23, 2013 by Karen B. Roberts
UD's Joshua Hertz leads a research team that is manipulating cubic zirconia to improve conductivity in fuel cells. Credit: Kathy F. Atkinson

( —Cubic zirconia has long been favored for its use in costume jewelry. Known scientifically as yttria-stabilized zirconia, it is also a known conductor of oxygen, making it useful as an electrolyte in solid oxide fuel cells.

Researchers at the University of Delaware recently fabricated the material into very on the surface of sapphire crystals using a technique called sputtering to determine whether the conductivity for oxygen could be improved, enabling to become a more economical and efficient electrical power source.

In their study, Joshua Hertz and his team examined the effect of reducing the thickness of the yttria-stabilized zirconia down to about 6 —roughly 20 atoms thick.

The research team found that a consequence of making the material so thin is that the distance between the atoms increases, stretching as much as roughly 2 percent.

"This may sound like a small amount, but it represents a very large effect for this material, which, like most ceramics, does not easily stretch," explained Hertz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

More importantly, the stretching increased the material's oxygen conductivity by a factor of 10.

This improved conductivity may open the door for more efficient and durable solid state electrochemical devices like solid oxide fuel cells and that can operate at reduced temperatures.

The team reported their findings in Applied Physics Letters, a high-impact scientific journal. The paper is titled "Improved ionic conductivity in strained yttria-stabilized zirconia thin films."

"We believe similar methods may be of use to batteries and other devices that use different solid electrolyte materials," added the paper's lead author Jun Jiang, a UD doctoral student studying .

Explore further: High-conductivity material demonstrates role of oxygen ions in enhancing their capabilities

More information:

Related Stories

Promising doped zirconia

May 17, 2013

Materials belonging to the family of dilute magnetic oxides (DMOs)—an oxide-based variant of the dilute magnetic semiconductors—are good candidates for spintronics applications. This is the object of study for Davide ...

Ceramic, heal thyself

April 17, 2008

A new computer simulation has revealed a self-healing behavior in a common ceramic that may lead to development of radiation-resistant materials for nuclear power plants and waste storage.

Recommended for you

Nano-decoy lures human influenza A virus to its doom

October 25, 2016

To infect its victims, influenza A heads for the lungs, where it latches onto sialic acid on the surface of cells. So researchers created the perfect decoy: A carefully constructed spherical nanoparticle coated in sialic ...

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries

October 24, 2016

Yuan Yang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a new method to increase the energy density of lithium (Li-ion) batteries. He has built a trilayer structure that ...

Nanofiber coating prevents infections of prosthetic joints

October 24, 2016

In a proof-of-concept study with mice, scientists at The Johns Hopkins University show that a novel coating they made with antibiotic-releasing nanofibers has the potential to better prevent at least some serious bacterial ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.