Highly conductive grain boundaries in cold-sintered barium zirconate-based proton conductors

16 November 2023, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Proton-conducting barium zirconate ceramics have shown large potential for efficient electrochemical conversion and separation processes at intermediate operation temperatures. The high energy efficiency, robustness, and intermediate-temperature operation (500-650 °C) make proton-conducting cells promising candidates for future energy conversion systems. However, the major disadvantages of these materials are the inevitable high-sintering temperatures (>1500 °C), leading to Ba-evaporation and formation of high-resistance grain boundaries, which dominate the electrochemical performance. Here, we introduce a novel processing route for proton-conducting barium zirconates, which, on the one hand, significantly lowers the maximum processing temperature and, on the other hand, overcomes the dominating influence of grain boundaries on total conductivity. The key step of this novel processing route is the cold sintering of the powder using pure water as a sintering aid to consolidate BaZr0.7Ce0.2Y0.1O3-δ (BZCY) at 350°C. We show that clean grain boundaries with a high acceptor-dopant concentration are preserved thanks to the recovery of the perovskite phase during thermal treatment at 1300 °C. This compensates the interfacial core charge, resulting in highly conductive grain boundaries, which do not limit the total conductivity. Consequently, dense BZCY electrolytes produced by our novel approach outperform the conductivity of conventionally sintered BZCY irrespective of the significantly lower maximum processing temperature and its nanocrystalline microstructure. Our presented approach opens up new possibilities for grain boundary engineering and might facilitate novel co-sintering pathways for barium zirconate-based components.


Proton conductor
Cold sintering
Grain Boundaries

Supplementary materials

Supplementary Information
Additional Data supporting the main manuscript.


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