Oxygen reduction in a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) cathode involves a non-equilibrium process of coupled mass and heat diffusion and electrochemical and chemical reactions. These phenomena occur at multiple temporal and spatial scales, from the mesoscopic to the atomistic level, making the modeling, especially in the transient regime, very difficult. Nonetheless, multi-scale models are needed to improve an understanding of oxygen reduction and guide fuel cell cathode design. Existing methods are typically phenomenological or empirical in nature so their application is limited to the continuum realm and quantum effects are not captured.
Steepest-entropy-ascent quantum thermodynamics (SEAQT) can be used to model non-equilibrium processes (even those far-from equilibrium) from the atomistic to the macroscopic level. The non-equilibrium relaxation is characterized by the entropy generation, and the study of coupled heat and mass diffusion as well as electrochemical and chemical activity are unified into a single framework. This framework is used here to study the transient and steady state behavior of oxygen reduction in an SOFC cathode system. The result reveals the effects on performance of the different timescales of the varied phenomena involved and their coupling. In addition, the influence of cathode microstructure changes on performance is captured.