TORRANCE, CA - In the race to speed solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology out of niche
markets and into widespread commercial use, GE Hybrid Power Generation
Systems has kicked fuel cell performance into high gear. Recent advancements
have dramatically improved baseline cell performance and accelerate GE’s
prospects for achieving the system efficiency and cost objectives of DOE’s
Solid State Energy Alliance (SECA) program.
Packing more power into smaller volumes is one of the breakthroughs needed
to reduce the cost and expand the use of efficient, environmentally friendly
fuel cells. But increasing power density isn’t the only goal; as
power density increases, fuel cells must continue to efficiently and reliably
convert fuel to electric power.
GE researchers have done both with the development of full-size single-cell
SOFC modules that consistently achieve a power density of 404 milliwatts
per square centimeter at 88 percent fuel utilization. This far surpasses
their SECA Phase I goal of 300 milliwatts per square centimeter and represents
a 47 percent increase over their 2004 baseline performance. The cells
have also demonstrated stable operation at 95 percent fuel utilization—a
record for full-size planar solid oxide fuel cells.
Fuel cells are one of the most attractive future power-generating technologies
because they produce virtually none of the air pollutants associated with
conventional power plants. When powered by fossil fuels such as natural
gas, solid oxide fuel cells operate at such high fuel-to-power efficiencies
that they dramatically reduce the release of greenhouse carbon gases.
GE Hybrid Power Generation Systems’
compact design concept for a 3- to10-kW SOFC system is under development
for use in distributed generation markets.
GE Hybrid Power Generation Systems is one of six industrial teams developing
solid oxide fuel cells under the Office of Fossil Energy’s SECA
program. The program was initiated in the fall of 1999 as an alliance
between government, industry, and the scientific community to develop
solid oxide fuel cells that could eventually be sold in virtually every
market needing clean, affordable electric power. GE joined SECA in 2001
and is nearing the end of the first of three phases in the research, development,
and testing of complete 3- to 10 kW SOFC prototypes.
The GE cells are fabricated using GE’s tape calendaring process,
a mass-production manufacturing technique that supports the $400-per-kilowatt
system cost goal of the SECA program. At $400 per kilowatt—nearly
one tenth the cost of power-generating fuel cells currently sold on the
market—fuel cells would compete with traditional gas turbine and
diesel electricity generators for stationary applications and become viable
auxiliary power suppliers for the transportation sector.
GE’s SOFC technology has been incorporated into a SECA prototype
fuel cell system. The compact, fuel-flexible system operates now on methane,
and will be able to operate on pipeline natural gas, coal gas, propane,
and other fuels in the future. To optimize performance and reliability,
the system uses an integrated thermal management approach, in which internal
components that generate heat are connected with those that use it, so
energy is not lost to the environment. The system also employs a flexible
control structure that allows the system’s operating characteristics
to be easily adjusted. Prototype testing began in April 2005.
DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory are responsible for SECA program development. For
more information, visit the SECA