Solar energy has the potential to supply more than enough energy to meet humanity’s energy demands. Here, a method for thermochemical solar energy storage through fuel production is presented. A porous non-stoichiometric oxide, ceria, undergoes partial thermal reduction and oxidation with concentrated solar energy as a heat source, and water as an oxidant. The resulting yields for hydrogen fuel and oxygen are produced in two discrete steps, while the starting material maintains its original phase.
Ordered porosity has been shown superior to random porosity for thermochemical fuel production applications, but stability limits for these structures are currently undefined. Ceria-based inverse opals are currently being investigated to assess the architectural influence on thermochemical hydrogen production. Low tortuosity and continuous interconnected pore network allow for facile gas transport and improved reaction kinetics. Ceria-based ordered materials have recently been shown to increase maximum hydrogen production over non-ordered porous ceria.
Thermal stability of ordered porosity was quantified using quantitative image analysis. Fourier analysis was applied to SEM images of the material. The algorithm results in an order parameter gamma that describes the degree of long range order maintained by these structures, where γ>4 signifies ordered porosity. According to this metric, a minimum zirconium content of 20 atomic percent (at%) is necessary for these architectures to survive aggressive annealing up to 1000˚C. Zirconium substituted ceria (ZSC) with Zr loadings in excess of 20at% developed undesired tetragonal phases. Through gamma, we were able to find a balance between the benefit of zirconium additions on structural stability and its negative impact on phase. This work demonstrates the stability of seemingly delicate architectures, and the operational limit for ceria based inverse opals to be 1000˚C for 1µm pore size. Inverse opals having sub-micron pores did not sustain ordered structures after heating, and those larger than 1µm had reinforced structural stability. Furthermore, this analysis was applied to materials which underwent isothermal hydrogen/water redox cycles. ZDC20 inverse opals having 300, 650 and 1000nm pore sizes maintained ordered porosity at 800˚C, indicating a novel opportunity for use at higher temperatures.
The mechanism of inverse opal degradation was investigated. Both in situ and ex situ electron microscopy studies were performed on inverse opals subjected to high temperatures. Coarsening by surface diffusion was found to be the dominant grain growth mechanism. The inverse opal grain growth mechanism was found to deviate from that of porous materials due to the high porosity and an upper limit to grain size caused by structural confinement. Furthermore, in situ experiments enabled correlation of nano-scale grain growth to micro-scale feature changes, resulting in an empirical relationship.
Lastly, this dissertation presents an investigation of the effect of ordered porosity on hydrogen production rate and quantity. These results differ from those presented in literature, and an opportunity for further investigation is proposed.