SOFCs will operate on today’s conventional fuels such as natural gas, diesel, coal and gasoline, as well as hydrogen, the fuel of tomorrow. The SECA program will provide a bridge to the hydrogen economy beginning with the introduction of SOFCs for stationary (both central generation and distributed energy) and auxiliary power applications.
One of the most promising ways to produce hydrogen in the U.S. may be with coal. Coal is a very abundant resource in the U.S. and will be the primary fuel if energy independence is to be realized. Over 50 percent of the electricity in the U.S. comes from coal, and coal use is increasing. The President recently announced the FutureGen project to produce hydrogen from coal. This is a $1 billion Presidential initiative leading to a 10-year demonstration project to create the world’s first coal-based zero-emissions power plant.
From the perspective of fuel cells, the goal is to aggregate SECA fuel cells into larger systems and to produce a very high-efficiency fuel cell/turbine (FCT) hybrid module as a key part of FutureGen. The highly efficient SOFC hybrid module will produce electric power while other integrated subsystems produce hydrogen and sequester CO2. The hydrogen produced can be used in fuel cell cars and for large SOFC Fuel Cells applications. The fuel cell or hybrid could operate on syngas or hydrogen, and segregation or isolation of CO2 can be achieved during syngas operation with some fuel cell designs (see Figure 1).
NETL and the National Fuel Cell Research Center are developing and analyzing cycles capable of achieving 75 percent fuel-to-electrical efficiency on natural gas (LHV) and 60 percent on coal (HHV) for large (~300 MW) central power plants. In both cases, cycles have been identified that are capable of achieving these efficiency goals for advanced power systems like FutureGen.
Figure 1: Fuel Cells and FCT Hybrids in FutureGen