Tech Briefs

Electrophoretic Deposition on Porous Non-Conductors

EPD is simplified and made more widely applicable.

A method of electrophoretic deposition (EPD) on substrates that are porous and electrically non-conductive has been invented. Heretofore, in order to perform an EPD, it has been necessary to either (1) use a substrate material that is inherently electrically conductive or (2) subject a non-conductive substrate to a thermal and/or chemical treatment to render it conductive.

In the present method, instead of relying on the electrical conductivity of the substrate, one ensures that the substrate is porous enough that when it is immersed in an EPD bath, the solvent penetrates throughout the thickness, thereby forming quasi-conductive paths through the substrate. By making it unnecessary to use a conductive substrate, this method simplifies the overall EPD process and makes new applications possible. The method is expected to be especially beneficial in enabling deposition of layers of ceramic and/or metal for chemical and electrochemical devices, notably including solid oxide fuel cells.

In the initial application for which this method was invented, there is a requirement to fabricate unitary anode/solid electrolyte structures for solid oxide fuel cells, each such structure comprising the following:

  • A porous cermet anode layer made of nickel and yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ) and
  • A solid electrolyte in the form a thin dense layer of YSZ.

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Particles of YSZ Were Deposited on an NiO-YSZ substrate in this experimental EPD apparatus.
The starting material for fabricating the structure is a porous layer consisting mostly of pellets of a composite of NiO and YSZ. The dense layer of YSZ is deposited on the NiO-YSZ composite later by means of EPD according to the present method, then the resulting (NiO-YSZ)/YSZ structure is sintered. The final fabrication step takes place after the sintered structure has been placed in a fuel cell: The reducing atmosphere maintained on the anode side of the fuel cell during testing reduces the NiO to metallic Ni, thereby creating the desired Ni anode having the porosity needed for transport of reactant and product gases.

The figure depicts the apparatus used in experiments to develop and demonstrate the present EPD method. The apparatus included a reservoir containing acetylacetone (as a nominally nonaqueous solvent). YSZ powder was stably suspended in the solvent by electrostatic repulsion, and YSZ particles were replenished to the depositing electrode by use of a magnetic stirrer. The YSZ particles acquired positive surface electric charges in a manner similar to that of surface charging in an aqueous medium. This charging has been conjectured to be a consequence of the presence of residual water in the acetylacetone. Regardless of the exact physical mechanism, the charging was fortuitous in that it contributed to the desired electrophoretic effect.