Washington, D. C. —
Two technologies developed under the U.S. Department of Energy's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) fuel cell program recently passed successful proof-of-concept tests by the U.S. Navy's Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division located in Newport, Rhode Island. The tests mark a breakthrough for solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)-based power systems and reflect the potential of SOFC technology for other spinoff market applications as well.
The proof-of-concept tests incorporated two technologies developed under the SECA program: SOFC stacks manufactured by Delphi Corporation of Flint, Mich., and a specialized blower developed for SECA SOFC systems by R&D Dynamics, Bloomfield, Conn., under DOE's Small Business Innovation Research program. The blower was used successfully in the test to recycle high-temperature fuel exhaust flows back to the fuel reformer. The proof-of-concept system met the U.S. Navy's targets for system size, power output, and efficiency.
SECA fuel cells make efficient use of plentiful domestic fuel sources and are a clean source of energy. They operate by separating and transferring oxygen across a solid electrolyte membrane, where it reacts with a fuel—such as synthesis gas derived from coal, biofuels, or natural gas—to produce steam and carbon dioxide (CO2). Condensing the steam results in a pure stream of CO2 gas that can be readily captured for storage or other use in a central location. This feature, coupled with the fact that fuel cell efficiency does not depend on high temperatures, results in near-zero emissions at equivalent or reduced cost-of-electricity compared to today's power generation. Furthermore, SECA systems have low water requirements and high efficiencies relative to conventional technologies.
SECA fuel cells are well-suited to unmanned undersea vehicles because they can operate on logistic fuels (such as jet fuels), tolerate fuel impurities, generate high-quality heat for fuel reforming, and are highly efficient in converting fuel energy into electricity. Use in unmanned undersea vehicles represents a spinoff application of SECA's fuel cell technology. Spinoffs into a variety of other applications and markets are encouraged because they enable increased manufacturing production volume and lower costs.
SECA was established by DOE's Office of Fossil Energy in 2000 to research and develop low-cost, modular, fuel-flexible solid oxide fuel cell systems by 2010. In early 2005, the SECA program was accelerated to deliver megawatt-class fuel cell systems in response to emerging national needs for low-cost carbon capture technologies, more efficient and cost effective use of fuels abundantly available in the United States, and reduced water use by power plants.
The Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory manages the SECA program and its projects.