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News Release

Release Date: July 29, 2005

DOE Awards $1.4 Million for Electrochemistry–Fossil Fuel Energy-Conversion Research
Large, Centralized Coal Power Plants May Benefit from Electrochemistry Integration

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. - The Department of Energy’s High Temperature Electrochemistry Center (HiTEC) announced its award today of $1.4 million to support five research projects that will foster novel electrochemical-based power generation and energy storage technologies for use in large, central coal-fired power plants. Advances in electrochemistry - the interconversion of electrical and chemical energy - will enable the power industry to maximize efficiency while minimizing the environmental effects of using fossil fuels.

The selected projects will focus primarily on solid oxide fuel cells, a technology that employs clean and efficient electrochemistry to produce electricity. Coal-based power production systems that incorporate solid oxide fuel cells have the potential for significantly higher efficiencies and lower emissions than conventional technologies. In addition, high-temperature electrochemical systems can enhance energy storage in central coal power plants, reducing the impact felt during hours of peak demand and making the plants more cost effective.

HiTEC is a research collaboration managed by two Department of Energy national laboratories: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). Its focus is on the technical breakthroughs needed to accomplish the Department of Energy’s vision for higher efficiency, near-zero-emissions energy plants of the future.

Project results are expected to benefit the President’s FutureGen and Global Climate Change Initiatives, which seek to reduce and then eliminate power plants emissions, advance hydrogen as a viable source of electric power, and reduce greenhouse gases while building U.S. and global economies. Expected benefits include:

  • Highly efficient energy technologies and expanded energy choices.
  • Power generation and energy storage technologies with near-zero emissions.
  • Low-cost electrochemical process materials and systems that are modular and scalable to help meet a growing worldwide demand for energy.

The projects will be conducted in two phases. During Phase I, each team will investigate the technical feasibility and commercial viability of its proposed approach. Projects that demonstrate merit may move into Phase II and advance their concepts to a sufficient maturity for integration into large, coal-based, power-generation systems.

The projects will be managed for the Energy Department by NETL and are described below:

  • Photo-Activated Low-Temperature Micro Fuel Cell Power Source—Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) offer greater efficiency and fuel flexibility than many other power sources. However, current state-of-the-art technology requires the use of exotic, cost-prohibitive materials to withstand the high temperatures in which SOFCs operate—on average 800–1,000 °C. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will investigate the use of ultraviolet light to enhance SOFC power generation processes, reducing operating temperatures to about 600 °C and making it possible to use standard, low-cost materials for fuel cell construction. If successful, this approach will reduce the cost of SOFC plant fabrication and help render SOFCs competitive in the energy marketplace. (DOE award: $100,000; project duration: 18 months)
  • The Techno-economic Feasibility of Highly Efficient, Cost-Effective, Thermoelectric SOFC Hybrid Power-Generation SystemsThe United Technology Research Center will build conceptual models of hybrid power-generation systems that combine high-temperature SOFCs with thermoelectric technology. In this approach, the thermoelectric component of the hybrid system would use waste heat from the SOFC to generate additional power, increasing the plant’s overall efficiency to more than 65 percent and reducing the integrated cost-per-kilowatt to $400 or less. The project team will also establish the technology maturity targets that must be achieved to make such a thermoelectric-SOFC hybrid system technically and economically viable. (DOE award: $279,949; project duration: 24 months)
  • The Use of High-Temperature Electrochemical Cells for the Co-generation of Chemicals and Electricity—Hydrogen production is a critical technology for achieving a wide range of national and global energy policy goals, but current costs associated with producing this alternative fuel are prohibitive to its commercial viability. Northwestern University will investigate an innovative, electrochemical SOFC that can simultaneously produce hydrogen and electricity. The ability to co-generate two marketable products within a single system would significantly reduce the overall costs of hydrogen production and bring the fuel of the future closer to market. (DOE award: $280,000; project duration: 24 months)
  • A High-Temperature Electrochemical Energy-Storage System Based on Sodium Beta-Alumina Solid Electrolyte (BASE)—The University of Utah seeks to develop a sodium-alumina system that would substantially advance electrochemical energy storage for use by electricity utility companies. The project team will tackle key challenges that still exist with the sodium-alumina energy-storage concept, including rapid seal corrosion, high degradation rates, and the expense of some system components. If successful, this new system will reduce the cost of electricity for energy storage by 25 percent and help utilities achieve round-trip (charge and discharge) energy efficiencies of 60 percent or more. (DOE award: $399,998; project duration: 24 months)
  • The Effect of Coal Contaminants on Solid Oxide Fuel Cell System Performance and Service Life—Coal gasification represents a rich source of fuel for SOFCs. However, naturally occurring impurities in the coal convert to contaminant vapors and fine particles during the gasification process. These can damage SOFCs, either catastrophically, if unknown contaminants or higher-than-planned levels slip past coal clean-up systems, or by accumulation that contributes to long-term deterioration. SRI International will assess the impact of known trace contaminants on SOFC performance and investigate how gasification systems can be designed to avoid harming SOFCs. (DOE award: $279,984; project duration: 24 months)

Contact: David Anna, DOE/NETL, 412-386-4646