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Carcinogenic material threatens solid oxide fuel cell development

The use of a carcinogenic material in solid oxide fuel cells could threaten the future development of this so-called clean technology, claim researchers at Loughborough University in the UK. Despite its potential to deliver power with near-zero emissions of some greenhouse gases, the rapidly developing SOFC business is threatened by the fact that the cells use anodes containing nickel oxide – a powerful carcinogen.

The warning is delivered in a paper published by Loughborough’s sustainable manufacturing research group in the Journal of Power Sources, and also reported on in New Scientist magazine.

The development of SOFC technology for use in stationary power-generating units is being pursued towards commercialization by a number of major companies worldwide. While its environmental benefits during operation are particularly attractive, especially when current climate change concerns are taken into account, the researchers say that future customers will scrutinize and demand environmental excellence across all aspects of the technology life-cycle.

It is likely that the use of NiO in these fuel cells will be carefully controlled under new and emerging environmental legislation, and even possible that it will be banned outright, claims the Loughborough team. They say that an ability to demonstrate compliance, as a minimum standard, is essential for successful market entry. Furthermore, to ensure that compliance is achieved, current and future legislative requirements must be considered within the fuel cell design process.

The principal aim of this research is to develop an awareness of some of the issues which SOFC developers are likely to face as this area of legislation continues to evolve. It will also highlight opportunities for addressing these issues during continuing design development, before commercialization.

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