The Department of Energy's Fossil Energy program is previewing the
guidelines for an upcoming competition that will kick off a 10-year, $350
million program to dramatically lower the cost of fuel cells by applying
advances in solid state technology.
The department posted a draft solicitation on its National
Energy Technology Laboratory web site today, asking prospective applicants
to comment on the document by October 11, 2000. The final solicitation
is scheduled to be issued by the end of October with the first set of
proposals likely to be due by December 15.
The solicitation is part of the Energy Department's new fuel cell initiative
called the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance, or SECA. The
goal of the new effort is to accelerate the development of the industrial
base needed to produce low-cost, solid-state fuel cells.
Fuel cells are widely regarding as the cleanest and most efficient of
technologies for converting fossil fuels into electricity, but their high
capital costs - $1,000 to as more than $3,500 per kilowatt - have posed
a formidable hurdle to widespread commercial application.
SECA is attempting to break the capital cost barrier, ultimately producing
fuel cells with a factory cost of less than $400 per kilowatt for stationary
power generation and even lower for transportation applications. The key
will be the mass production of ceramic-based fuel cells with techniques
adapted from recent, revolutionary advances in solid state electronics,
materials and fuel cell designs.
The upcoming solicitation will focus on the basic building block of the
new concept - a 5-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell module capable of being
mass produced and used for residential or auxiliary power unit applications.
The modules could also be combined like batteries to generate larger quantities
of power. Industrial teams, comprising both developers and commercial
users of the systems, are being encouraged to participate in the SECA
At $400 per kilowatt, fuel cells will almost certainly find commercial
applications well beyond their current niche markets. Their clean, high
efficiency performance could make them ideal candidates for commercial
vehicles, military applications and future power plants, perhaps as early
as 2010. Ultimately, the Energy Department hopes to incorporate the low-cost
fuel cells into its new Vision 21 concept for a high-efficiency,
non-polluting energy plant of the future.
Two national laboratories - the National Energy Technology Laboratory
and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory - form the core of the new initiative
that will ultimately include commercial developers, universities and other
The Energy Department plans to keep the
initial SECA competition underway through 2002 with applications due each
December 15. Industrial teams will be required to share 20 to 50 percent
of the costs of the development efforts.