Imposed currents in galvanic cells

PM Biesheuvel, M van Soestbergen, MZ Bazant

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We analyze the steady-state behavior of a general mathematical model for reversible galvanic cells, such as redox flow cells, reversible solid oxide fuel cells, and rechargeable batteries. We consider not only operation in the galvanic discharging mode, spontaneously generating a positive current against an external load, but also operation in two modes which require a net input of electrical energy: (i) the electrolytic charging mode, where a negative current is imposed to generate a voltage exceeding the open-circuit voltage, and (ii) the ¿super-galvanic¿ discharging mode, where a positive current exceeding the short-circuit current is imposed to generate a negative voltage. Analysis of the various (dis-) charging modes of galvanic cells is important to predict the efficiency of electrical to chemical energy conversion and to provide sensitive tests for experimental validation of fuel cell models. In the model, we consider effects of diffuse charge on electrochemical charge-transfer rates by combining a generalized Frumkin-Butler-Volmer equation for reaction kinetics across thecompact Stern layer with the full Poisson-Nernst-Planck transport theory, without assuming local electroneutrality. Since this approach is rare in the literature, we provide a brief historical review. To illustrate the general theory, we present results for a monovalent binary electrolyte, consisting of cations, which react at the electrodes, and non-reactive anions, which are either fixed in space (as in a solid electrolyte) or are mobile (as in a liquid electrolyte). The full model is solved numerically and compared to analytical results in the limit of thin diffuse layers, relative to the membrane thickness. The spatial profiles of the ion concentrations and electrostatic potential reveal a complex dependence on the kinetic parameters and the imposed current, in which the diffuse charge at each electrode and the total membrane charge can have either sign, contrary perhaps to intuition. For thin diffuse layers, simple analytical expressions are presented for galvanic cells valid in all three (dis-)charging modes in the two subsequent limits of the ratio ¿ of the effective thicknesses of the compact and diffuse layers: (i) the ¿Helmholtz limit¿ (¿¿¿) where the compact layer carries the double layer voltage as in standard Butler-Volmer models, and (ii) the opposite ¿Gouy-Chapman limit¿ (¿¿0) where the diffuse layer fully determines the charge-transfer kinetics. In these limits, the model predicts both reaction-limited and diffusion-limited currents, which can be surpassed for finite positive values of the compact layer, diffuse layer and membrane thickness.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)4857-4871
Number of pages15
JournalElectrochimica Acta
Issue number2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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