NETL’s Fuel Cells program focuses on stationary fuel cell based power systems that can meet market entry criteria envisioned in the next decade. Environmental hurdles for new capacity are certain to be essentially zero pollutant emissions and ultra-high efficiency, as evidenced by proposed regulations and the Administration’s Climate Change, Clear Skies, and FutureGen initiatives.
Technologies that hold the promise for enabling widespread application of Fuel Cells and addressing expressed market and energy security issues are poised to become a commercial reality. DOE has put in place a multi-component program to effect that commercialization. These components are:
- Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA)—a solid oxide fuel cell development program
- Hybrids—integrating fuel cells and turbines to provide high efficient power block
- Ramgen—a novel power generation technology
This portfolio of technologies has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry. The fuel cell based systems offer virtually pollution free performance at unsurpassed efficiencies on a range of domestic fuels. Together with compact modular construction and quiet operation, these fuel cell based systems can be installed at almost anywhere and match specific power demands. Fuel Cells applications for these systems are described later in this overview.
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This video clip describes the unique SECA fuel cell alliance.
The Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance is accelerating advanced technology development that will enable commercialization of low-cost solid oxide fuel cells for diverse applications reducing the nation’s dependence on imported oil, mitigating environmental concerns associated with current methods of generating electricity from fossil fuels, and providing clean efficient power with the fuels of today and the hydrogen of tomorrow.
The Alliance was formed between three groups: Industrial Teams, Core Technology Program teams, and Federal Government experts. The Industry Teams design the fuel cells, handling most hardware and market penetration issues. The Core Technology Program teams, comprised of universities, national laboratories, and other research organizations, look into research problems affecting the Industry Teams. The Core Technology Program research is available for all Industry Teams to use, so as to aid accelerated development. The Federal Government facilitates the interaction between the first two groups, manages the SECA program, and most importantly, encourages a broad national perspective to solid oxide fuel cell technology development, beyond company-specific interests.
NETL, in partnership with private industries and others, is leading the development and demonstration of high efficiency solid oxide fuel cells and fuel cell/turbine hybrid power generation systems. These are promising systems offering possibly the only option for meeting the DOE’s efficiency goal for advanced coal based power systems of 60 percent (HHV) for fuel-to-electricity, with near zero emissions and competitive costs for multi-MW class central power plants in a 2020 time frame.
There are at least two basic fuel cell/turbine concepts from which actual advanced systems will derive—direct and indirect. In the direct operating mode, the fuel cell serves as the combustor for the gas turbine. Residual fuel in the already high temperature fuel cell exhaust mixes with the residual oxygen in an exothermic oxidation reaction to further raise the temperature. Both the fuel cell and the gas turbine generate electricity, and the gas turbine provides some balance-of plant functions for the fuel cell, such as supplying air under pressure and preheating the fuel and air in a heat exchanger called a recuperator. In the indirect mode, the recuperator transfers fuel cell exhaust energy to the compressed air supply, which in turn drives the turbine. The expanded air is supplied to the fuel cell. The indirect mode uncouples the turbine compressor pressure and the fuel cell operating pressure, which increases flexibility in turbine selection. Critical issues are the integration of pressure ratios and mass flows and the dynamic control through start-up, shutdown, emergency, and load-following operating scenarios.
The High Temperature Electrochemistry Center (HiTEC) is a research collaboration focused on scientific understanding and technical breakthroughs needed to accomplish DOE’s vision for energy plants of the future, such as FutureGen. Its mission is to provide crosscutting, multidisciplinary research that leads to advanced electrochemical technologies for minimizing the environmental consequences of using fossil fuel in energy generation.
The Center is used to develop a fundamental understanding of processes that limit the performance of high-temperature electrochemical systems. Such systems have applications in fossil energy conversion, reversible fuel cells, membranes, energy storage, hydrogen production and use, gas separation and purification, electrolysis, emissions reduction, thermoelectrics, sensing, and low cost materials manufacturing technologies. Composed of parallel experimental and modeling activities, research conducted by HiTEC will eventually lead to new concepts and technologies in fossil fuel utilization.
The Rampressor-Turbine engine
DOE’s Fossil Energy program is committed to searching for promising new ideas for low-cost, low-pollutant power generation. Three Ramgen technologies are under examination: 1) the Rampressor, a compressor product; 2) the Rampressor-Turbine, a combination of the Rampressor with the combustor and turbine stages of a turbine engine to gain compression advantages in generating electricity; and, 3) the Ramgen Engine which maximizes the use of ramjet technology to produces electricity. View the Ramgen section of the Fuel Cells website for more information.
Benefits of the Fuel Cells Program
Achieving the research goals set forth in the DOE Fuel Cells program will result in environmental, economic, energy security and energy reliability benefits.
A bridge to a pollution-free, hydrogen economy is provided by operating cleanly and efficiently today on abundant hydrogen-rich fossil fuels and by offering even better performance in the future on pure hydrogen. In addition, environmental concerns associated with fossil fuel use are eliminated by producing negligible pollutant emissions, and by providing ultra high, stand-alone efficiency.
Economic benefits come by utility restructuring—providing more power choices for residences and businesses. In addition, the U. S. industry is positioned to export highly cost-competitive Fuel Cells in rapidly growing and evolving international energy markets, the largest portion of which has modest or non existent transmission and distribution grids, lending itself to distributed power.
Energy security is strengthened by enabling a variety of low cost domestic energy resources, by reducing the fuel use through major efficiency gains, and by reducing electricity delivery infrastructure vulnerability to terrorist attack. Fuel Cells systems are fuel flexible, capable of operating on natural gas, transportation fuels, and synthesis gas derived from coal, biomass, or wastes. These systems can be strategically dispersed anywhere because of their compactness and quiet, environmentally benign operation.
Reliability of energy supply is ensured by enabling rapid deployment where needed, by providing on site grid independent services, and by consistently meeting power quality needs. The compact, quite, essentially zero-emissions Fuel Cells systems can be readily installed almost anywhere. On-site power eliminates service disruptions caused by grid damage or adjustments to overloads, and provides the power quality needed in many industrial applications dependent upon sensitive electronic instrumentation and controls.
Fuel Cells Applications
Standby Power is used where electric service interruption either impacts public health and safety or causes irreparable economic loss. Examples are hospitals, water pumping stations, and computer chip manufacturing facilities.
Peak Shaving is the use of on-site power during relatively high-cost peak periods of utility power generation to reduce cost and alleviate grid congestion. Examples are office buildings, schools, and hotels.
Combined Heat and Power is the application of waste heat energy derived from an on-site power source to power heating-ventilation-and-air conditioning (HVAC), or provide process heat. Examples are large commercial buildings and process industries.
Grid Support is the strategic placement of power where the grid has problems sustaining power delivery due to the length or configuration of the transmission and distribution grid.
Stand Alone Fuel Cells is used where transmission and distribution grid service is not an option. Examples are lighthouses and other remote stations, auxiliary power units for emergency services or military applications, and manufacturing facilities using delicate electronics.