High energy efficiency and energy density, together with rapid refuelling capability, render fuel cells highly attractive for portable power generation. Accordingly, polymer-electrolyte direct-methanol fuel cells are of increasing interest as possible alternatives to Li ion batteries. However, such fuel cells face several design challenges and cannot operate with hydrocarbon fuels of higher energy density. Solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) enable direct use of higher hydrocarbons, but have not been seriously considered for portable applications because of thermal management difficulties at small scales, slow start-up and poor thermal cyclability. Here we demonstrate a thermally self-sustaining micro-SOFC stack with high power output and rapid start-up by using single chamber operation on propane fuel. The catalytic oxidation reactions supply sufficient thermal energy to maintain the fuel cells at 500-600 °C. A power output of ∼350 mW (at 1.0 V) was obtained from a device with a total cathode area of only 1.42 cm2.
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