1992-08-03

Activated Transport in AMTEC Electrodes 929009

Transport of alkali metal atoms through porous cathodes of alkali metal thermal-to-electric converter (AMTEC) cells is responsible for significant, reducible losses in the electrical performance of these cells. Experimental evidence for activated transport of metal atoms at grain surfaces and boundaries within some AMTEC electrodes has been derived from temperature dependent studies as well as from analysis of the detailed frequency dependence of ac impedance results for other electrodes, including thin, mature molybdenum electrodes which exhibit transport dominated by free molecular flow of sodium gas at low frequencies or dc conditions. Activated surface transport will almost always exist in parallel with free molecular flow transport, and the process of alkali atom adsorption/desorption from the electrode surface will invariably be part of the transport process, and possibly a dominant part in some cases. Little can be learned about the detailed mass transport process from the ac impedance or current voltage curves of an electrode at one set of operating parameters, because the transport process includes a number of important physical parameters that are not all uniquely determined by one experiment. The temperature dependence of diffusion coefficient of the alkali metal through the electrode in several cases provides an activation energy and pre-exponential, but at least two activated processes may be operative, and the activation parameters should also be expected to depend on the alkali metal activity gradient that the electrode experiences. Variation in the electrode's physical and morphological parameters, by control during deposition and as morphology evolves with electrode aging, may help to distinguish the influence of activated diffusion from adsorption/desorption, for example. In the case of Pt/W/Mn electrodes operated for 2500 hours, limiting currents varied with electrode thickness, and the activation parameters could be assigned primarily to the surface/grain boundary diffusion process.

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