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Talking to Vesna Middelkoop and Marijke Jacobs, VITO, BE (December 2021)

About Vesna Middelkoop

Dr. Vesna Middelkoop has an interdisciplinary background in Materials Science and Physics and specialist experience in a variety of materials design, chemical reactors engineering and project management roles. She obtained a PhD degree in the field of synchrotron X-Ray characterisation of materials synthesis processes from the University of London in 2009, having worked within the Industrial Materials Group of the University College London, Chemistry Department and Birkbeck College, Crystallography Department. She has been working in the R&D industry in London before joining VITO. Her current research focus is the development of novel structured materials for chemical/catalytic conversion, adsorption and energy applications within EU-funded and industrial contract research projects. She is currently involved in several H2020 projects (CARMOF, ZEOCAT-3D, KEROGREEN, GLAMOUR, ORACLE) and is the coordinator of CO2Fokus.

About Marijke Jacobs

Dr. Ir. Marijke Jacobs obtained her PhD in Civil Engineering option Materials Science at Ghent University in collaboration with the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, after her Master Degree in Civil Engineering option Applied Physics. Since 2011, she is working as a researcher at VITO in the group Coating and Shaping Technologies. Her expertise lies in the shaping of spherical porous particles, material studies and ceramic coatings for catalysis and energy applications within EU-funded and industrial research projects. Marijke has gained experience in up-scaling different technologies from lab to production scale. In addition, she has made several contributions to international conferences, proceedings, scientific journals and patents.


Role in the project: members of VITO, project partner


1-What is VITO's core competences?

The Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) is a leading independent European research and technology organisation and consulting centre that develops innovative products and processes and delivers client-oriented research projects, building on its decades-long experience of multidisciplinary research. VITO plays a vital economic and social role acting as a conduit between stakeholders from business, government and the research community. More specifically, VITO’s research and industrial consultancy is directed towards solving problems and technology transfer related to energy efficiency, new materials, sustainable chemistry, environmental protection and resource scarcity.

VITO’s Sustainable Materials Department (SuMAT) has gained international recognition as an important research facility for - among other things - sustainable materials development and clean technologies. With a well-connected team of experienced researchers, and state-of-the-art laboratories, the SuMAT department and its Coating and Shaping Technologies (CAST) have the expertise and facilities to enable the development of innovative structured materials from the initial stages of their preparation, through the advanced shaping processes to characterisation for different structures and forms, including 3D printing of structured catalysts and adsorbents for chemical production.

2-How did VITO join the KEROGREEN partners team?

We got in contact with DIFFER (project coordinator) through our mutual network of researchers and collaborators. The KEROGREEN concept presented an extension to VITO’s prior work in the field of high temperature oxygen conducting systems, which was instantly seen as a good match for DIFFER’s plasma assisted CO2 dissociation process. We also already had a successful collaboration with HyGear and Cerpotech (two other KEROGREEN partners) prior to stepping into KEROGREEN.

3-What is your role in the project?

VITO’s main role in KEROGREEN is the development of the oxygen separator to separate the oxygen after the CO2 plasma dissociation. This oxygen separator is based on a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) which consists of a fuel electrode consisting of a plasma electrode, an oxygen electrode and an electrolyte. VITO developed different types of solid oxide cells in KEROGREEN: both planar and tubular systems and both electrolyte and electrode supported cells. The tubular SOEC served for the integrated system. The oxygen separator was integrated into the plasma reactor at DIFFER. The planar cells are mounted into a stack to place behind the plasma reactor. For the application of the electrode or electrolyte layers, VITO selected spray coating as it allows to control precisely the thickness of the layers, to coat large surface areas and to coat both planar and tubular cells. In addition, VITO investigated the stability of the plasma electrode powder and the spray coated SOEC in a plasma simulated environment by exposing the material to a gas mixture of CO2, CO and O2 for 2 weeks at 800 °C. The benchmarking of the developed spray coated SOEC with commercially manufactured cells is also a role that VITO takes up in the project.     

4-Can you briefly expose the status concerning the progress of SOEC development? What are the current challenges?

During the KEROGREEN project several improvements were achieved for the SOEC development. The adhesion and the homogeneity of the electrode layers were enhanced and the density of the layers was controlled by optimization of the spray coating process. This includes the spray suspension and the spray coating parameters. Optimal electrode layers could be achieved with a thin and dense protective interlayer between the electrodes and the electrolyte. Nevertheless, some small interactions occur after thermal treatment of the cells. However, these interactions seem to be stable in a plasma simulated environment for most of the developed cells. One of the current challenges is to avoid these small interactions as it is not yet known what the effect will be on the stability and working of the SOEC in real conditions.

5-You are involved in other running EU projects so far. What kind of synergies are existing or may arise?

Yes indeed, we are also involved in other running EU projects. One of these projects is the ORACLE project in which VITO develops similar solid oxide cells by spray coating. The difference is that in ORACLE the targeted application is ammonia production instead of oxygen separation. This will require other materials as fuel electrode or electrolyte.

6-What will your achievements in KEROGREEN mean for the fuel cell industry?

VITO’s achievements in KEROGREEN can be important for the solid oxide fuel cell industry, coating industry including broadly the alternative fuels sector. Spray coating could offer an alternative deposition technology for electrode layers or other types of coating besides the most commonly used screen printing technique. Also, spray coating can bring several advantages such as easier control of the thickness and microstructure, the possibility of coating curved surfaces and it is a scalable technology. These benefits could advance the industrial manufacturing of different types of thin coatings.  

7-Which benefits do you expect from the project for VITO?

The KEROGREEN project has given VITO the opportunity to develop its knowledge on the application of coating layers by spray coating to target the fuel cell industry. VITO will also be able to offer their developed know-how to the coating industry.


Many thanks for the interview. Wish a lot of success for the SOEC development!