Direct Observation of Virtual Electrode Formation By Spectromicroscopy

Wednesday, May 14, 2014: 08:40
Floridian Ballroom J, Lobby Level (Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek)
D. A. Siegel, F. El Gabaly, N. Bartelt, and K. F. McCarty (Sandia National Laboratories)
Novel electrochemical solutions to problems in energy storage and transportation can drive renewable energy to become an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels.  In many electrochemical systems, the behavior of a device can be fundamentally limited by the surface area of a triple phase boundary, the boundary region where a gas-phase species, electrode, and electrolyte coincide.  When the electrode is an ionic insulator the triple phase boundary is typically a one-dimensional boundary with nanometer-scale thickness: ions cannot transport through the electrode, while electrons cannot be transported through the electrolyte.

Here we present direct experimental measurements of a novel electrolyte-to-electrode transition with photoemission electron microscopy, and observe that the surface of an ionically conductive, electronically insulative solid oxide electrolyte undergoes a transition into a mixed electron-ion conductor in the vicinity of a metal electrode.  Our direct experimental measurements allow us to characterize this system and address the mechanisms of ionic reactions and transport through comparisons with theoretical modeling to provide us with a physical picture of the processes involved.

Our results provide insight into one of the mechanisms of ion transport in an electrochemical cell that may be generalizable to other systems.