WASHINGTON, DC - Six industry teams have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, these results reflect considerable progress towards commercially-viable solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.
"The development of the fuel cell prototypes culminates the first four years of SECA research and development and brings Phase I of the program to a close," said Wayne Surdoval, Fuel Cells Technology Manager at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), which manages the SECA program for the Office of Fossil Energy. "It reflects the ingenuity and hard work of the industry teams and researchers in the core technology program, which addresses technical issues common to all six teams. This success paves the way for the development of large-scale commercial SOFC systems that will use the Nation's vast coal reserves in an environmentally benign manner."
The six industry teams, led by Acumentrics, Cummins Power Generation, Delphi Automotive Systems, FuelCell Energy, General Electric, and Siemens Power Generation, designed and manufactured SOFC electrical power generators in the 3-10 kilowatt range that were then subjected to a series of rigorous tests to evaluate system performance with respect to efficiency, endurance, availability, and production cost. To verify results, the prototype tests and system cost analyses were subjected to independent audits, with additional validation testing performed at NETL's fuel cell test facility. GE kicked off phase I testing in June 2005, and tests concluded with Cummins in December 2006.
The industry teams' prototypes surpassed the Department of Energy (DOE) Phase I targets. The prototypes demonstrated:
- Average efficiency of 38.5 percent and a high of 41 percent, exceeding the DOE target of 35 percent.
- Average steady-stage power degradation of 2 percent per 1,000 hours, besting the DOE target of 4 percent per 1,000 hours.
- System availabilities averaging 97 percent, topping the 90 percent DOE target across the board.
- Projected system costs ranging from $724 to $775 per kilowatt, which eclipsed the DOE intermediate target for an annual production of 250 megawatts and positions the teams to meet the 2010 target of $400 per kilowatt target.
According to Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Thomas Shope, "Cost is the key metric for the DOE stationary fuel cell program. Achievement of $400 per kilowatt means that fuel cell systems will be competitive with power generation devices spanning virtually all commercial applications, with superior efficiency and a significant reduction of green house gas emissions."
With the capture of the Phase I flag, SECA advances toward its ultimate goal: coal-fueled central power stations that will use SECA-developed SOFCs. SECA teams are now scaling their technologies for these applications, concurrent with ongoing cost reduction efforts.
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel (hydrogen, coal, natural gas, gasoline, or diesel) into electrical energy without combustion, so the formation of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, is essentially non-existent. SOFCs are one of the cleanest, most efficient power-generating technologies now under development and have the highest efficiency of any fuel cell type.
SOFCs are amenable to a variety of system configurations, with studies indicating that coal-fueled integrated gasification fuel-cell systems will be capable of plant efficiencies exceeding 55 percent. These systems are an environmentally attractive option because of their ability to facilitate the capture and sequestration of 90 percent of the carbon contained in the coal feedstock, which far exceeds current technology and would result in a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The SECA program was initiated in 2000 as an alliance between government, industry, and the scientific community to capitalize on the advantages of fuel cell technology and develop fuel cells that will be sold in virtually every market needing clean, affordable electric power.