Release Date: January 3, 2005
|Major Milestone Met in Government-Industry Drive to Develop Affordable Fuel Cell
Achievement Brightens Prospects for Environmentally Clean Technology to Move into Mainstream Energy Markets
Squeezing more watts of electric power from smaller and smaller volumes of fuel cell materials is one of the "holy grails" of fuel cell developers. Combined with advances in mass production, such improvements in a fuel cell’s "power density" could provide one of the much needed technological leaps that could make this environmentally attractive technology economically competitive with today’s traditional ways of generating electricity.
Now Delphi Corp., a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy’s advanced fuel cell development program, has reported that it has exceeded the power density level required to meet the government’s $400 per kilowatt cost goal for fuel cells. Meeting the cost target is essential if fuel cells are to expand beyond their current niche markets into widespread commercial use.
At $400 per kilowatt – nearly one-tenth the cost of power-generating fuel cells currently sold on the market – fuel cells would compete with traditional gas turbine and diesel electricity generators and become viable power suppliers for the transportation sector. The Energy Department has set 2010 as the timeframe for these low-cost fuel cells to be sufficiently developed for commercial markets.
Fuel cells are one of the most attractive future power generating technologies because they produce virtually none of the air pollutants associated with conventional power plants. When powered by fossil fuels such as natural gas, fuel cells operate at such high fuel-to-power efficiencies that they also dramatically reduce the release of greenhouse carbon gases. Ultimately fuel cells powered by pure hydrogen will produce electricity and heat with only water as a byproduct.
Delphi, headquartered in Flint, Mich., is heading one of six industrial teams working with the Energy Department to produce breakthrough, low-cost fuel cells. Working with Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio science and technology firm, the company is developing an all solid-state fuel cell that can be mass produced for automotive and truck auxiliary power units, distributed power generating stations, and military markets.
The Energy Department expects that ultimately fuel cells will be mass produced from solid ceramic materials much like the solid state components that have dramatically reduced the costs of today’s computers, televisions and other electronic appliances. But mass manufacturing alone will likely not be sufficient to meet cost goals. Packing more power generating potential into a fuel cell, thus reducing the volume and cost of fuel cell materials, will be equally important if fuel cells are to become affordable in mainstream markets.
The latest Delphi fuel cell tests were relatively small compared to the units envisioned for future commercial sales, but they demonstrated that the necessary power density levels are technologically possible. The test cells produced an initial power density of 575 milliwatts per square centimeter at 0.7 volts nominal in full-size stacks, bettering the Energy Department’s target of 500 milliwatts per square centimeter.
Delphi and Battelle joined the Energy Department’s advanced fuel cell program in 2001. Called the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA), the program was initiated in the fall of 1999 as an alliance between government, industry, and the scientific community to develop solid oxide fuel cells that could eventually be sold in virtually every market needing clean, affordable electric power.
The goal of Delphi/Battelle’s 10-year, $135-million, cost-shared program with the Energy Department is to develop and test a 5-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell that can be mass-produced at low cost for two basic applications: distributed power generation systems and automotive auxiliary power units.
The distributed power generation systems are being designed to use natural gas as the primary fuel (which would be steam reformed to generate the hydrogen used by the fuel cell), while the automotive auxiliary power unit incorporates a catalytic fuel rich partial oxidation system to extract hydrogen from gasoline. Using SECA fuel cells in central generation coal plants is the ultimate target for SECA technology.
DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are responsible for SECA program development.
|Contact: David Anna, DOE/NETL, 412-386-4646|