US Promote Fuel Cell Development to Hasten Zero Emissions Energy

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham today announced a new phase of fuel-cell research designed to hasten the wider availability of zero-emissions energy. Eleven new projects with total value of nearly $4.2 million, including private-sector cost-sharing of more than 20 percent, focus on solving the remaining issues in developing solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems for commercial use.

“The President’s Hydrogen and Climate Initiatives envision fuel cells playing a prominent role in the economy and everyday life,” Secretary Abraham said. “To reach the goal of zero-emissions energy, we need to reduce the costs of fuel cell acquisition and use. These projects address the last barriers to commercially viable solid oxide fuel cell systems.”

Selected by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance Program (SECA), the grant-winning projects are focused on developing improvements in fuel cell materials and performance, as well as attaining target capital costs of less than $400 per kilowatt, all of which will make fuel cells extremely competitive with conventional power generation.

Fuel cells are one of the cleanest and most efficient technologies for generating electricity. Since there is no combustion, there are none of the pollutants commonly produced by boilers and furnaces. For systems designed to consume hydrogen directly, the only products are electricity, water and heat.

Fuel cells operate much like a battery, turning oxygen and hydrogen into electricity in the presence of an electrically conductive material called an electrolyte. Unlike a battery, however, fuel cells never lose their charge. As long as there is a constant source of fuel – usually natural gas for the hydrogen and air for the oxygen – fuel cells will generate electricity.

Uses and potential uses of fuel cells include on-site electric power for households and commercial buildings; supplemental or auxiliary power to support car, truck and aircraft systems; power for personal, mass and commercial transportation; and the modular addition by utilities of new power generation closely tailored to meet growth in power consumption.

Successful scale up of SECA fuel cells will allow these ultra-high efficiency power modules to provide pollution-free electricity from zero-emission plants such as FutureGen. The SECA Program is managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. The grant-winning projects are:

Georgia Institute of Technology will develop new materials for SECA high temperature fuel cells to resist the detrimental effects of the sulfur found in the natural gas, gasoline and diesel fuels used in fuel cells. Georgia Tech will investigate the detailed chemistry of how sulfur interacts with high temperature fuel cell materials leading to a more fundamental understanding that can be used to improve the material selection and design. Improved sulfur tolerance will eliminate expensive sulfur-removal equipment from the fuel cell system and improve the reliability of SECA fuel cells. DOE award $300,000.

Tennessee Technological University will develop a new class of metal alloys for service as interconnect materials in SECA fuel cell stacks. Tennessee Tech will evaluate the corrosion resistance and electrical conductivity of the alloys in the harsh high-temperature SOFC environment. These materials will offer improved electrical performance with less degradation over time than current state-of-the-art materials. DOE award $300,000.

Southwest Research Institute will develop modifications to interconnect materials in SECA fuel cell stacks to avoid adverse reactions with differing adjacent materials and environments. These modifications will permit the use of lower-cost base metals while improving electrical performance and reducing long-term degradation over current state of the art materials. DOE award $300,000.

University of Utah will survey the types of oxide layers that may form on various steels in the solid oxide fuel cell environment and characterize their electronic conductivity and stability. The project will also work to develop low-cost processes for the deposition of coatings on metallic interconnect materials. DOE award $297,004.

Arcomac Surface Engineering LLC will develop and apply a multiple-layer nano-coating to low thermal expansion, low-cost ferritic stainless steels to improve their performance and durability as SOFC interconnect materials. DOE award $300,000.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale will employ a new synthesis method for producing high quality, low-cost powders of titanium carbides for fabricating interconnect components. DOE award $369,446.

University of Cincinnati will develop glasses that are able to “heal” thermal cycle-induced microcracks in situ. The developed glasses will be characterized based on thermal expansion, softening temperature, and chemical stability in an SOFC operating environment. DOE award $250,000.

University of Connecticut will develop a multi-layered composite structure consisting of thin layers of oxidation-resistant metals, porous ceramics, and glasses. The seal structure will be fabricated onto the surfaces of ceramic and metallic SOFC components using low-cost manufacturing methods such as atmospheric plasma spray. DOE award $299,716.

University of Missouri-Rolla will develop new, thermochemically-stable sealing systems based on glasses and glass-ceramics that are compatible with other SOFC components. DOE award $278,527.

ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures LLC will develop the expertise to inject and vaporize diesel fuel to determine what form of carbon deposition deactivates the catalyst at low steam-to-carbon ratios and determine if radio frequency coke suppression will be useful to prevent deposition. DOE award $300,000.

Delevan Inc. dba/Turbine Fuel Technologies will evaluate existing and new fuel injector designs, select the most promising concept(s), and integrate through computer modeling. Performance of the design will be evaluated by NASA’s Glenn Research Center. DOE award $307,238.

For more information on fuel cells, click here.

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