WASHINGTON, DC - The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the selection of nine projects for the Department's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) Core Technology Program portfolio that will address specific challenges in scaling up and integrating solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) into advanced central generation power plants.
The Core Technology Program extends fuel cell technology to new levels of performance through exploration, research and development of fresh concepts suggested by SECA Industry Team results or developments in related fields and disciplines. As the Core Technology Program overcomes technical hurdles, the generated results and intellectual property are made available to all the SECA Industry Teams. The Core Technology Program participants include universities, national laboratories, small businesses and other research institutions.
SECA fuel cells are ideal for use in central generation applications, enabling efficient and economic systems for carbon capture. They also emit practically no pollutants (nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides) while consuming much less water than other advanced power generation technologies. Power plants based on SECA fuel cells and coal gasifiers - units that turn solid coal into gaseous fuel - will generate power with overall efficiencies greater than 50 percent, compared to approximately 25 percent for traditional coal-fired power plants, including CO2 capture processes. These systems will enable the clean, efficient and cost-effective use of the nation's most abundant fossil fuel - coal.
The SECA program and the selected projects are managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). These projects will consist of two phases, each 12 or 18 months long. Projects will move to Phase II providing Phase I work demonstrates sufficient technical merit and adequate funds are available. The selected projects are described below:
Research consistently shows that the majority of the losses in SOFC performance are concentrated at the air electrode "cathode," which provides electrons for the reaction of oxygen gas with the fuel cell. The following six projects will employ state-of-the-art concepts and methodologies to improve the stability and performance of fuel cell cathodes.
- Boston University, Boston, Mass. - Boston University will use a combination of electrochemical measurements, structural studies, and spectroscopic techniques to probe the cause-and-effect relationships between the structure and chemistry of cathodes and their performance. The role of surface modifications to the cathode and its role in oxygen reaction will be investigated. (DOE award: $450,000; recipient share: $112,500)
- Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa. - CMU will explore the nature of atomic-scale surface chemistry on dense model cathodes rather than the complex, industry-standard, porous cathodes. They plan to evaluate the electronic properties of the model cathodes and correlate them with cathode performance parameters. Determining surface-sensitive parameters that dictate the performance of fuel cells will allow for the engineering of improved SOFCs. (DOE award: $450,000; recipient share: $112,500)
- Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Atlanta, Ga. - Georgia Tech will fabricate cathodes by combining a porous backbone with a thin catalyst coating. They aim to establish the scientific basis for rational design of high-performance cathodes. (DOE award: $600,000; recipient share: $150,000)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. - MIT will obtain a fundamental understanding of the catalytic activity on selected materials using high-temperature surface techniques. They anticipate a threefold outcome from their research: (1) new scientific knowledge on the correlations between cathode surface structure and performance, (2) the identification of favorable prototype cathode structures, and (3) an essential library of data that theorists can use to predict new cathode structures. (DOE award: $750,000; recipient share: $187,500)
- Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont. - The Montana State Physics Department will combine synchrotron X-ray techniques with laboratory analytical techniques to identify chemical, micro-structural, and/or crystal structure changes occurring in cathodes that explain performance degradation under normal SOFC operation. Methods to solve or prevent degradation will be proposed and investigated. The findings will be used to improve on existing materials and develop future SOFC cathode materials. (DOE award: $450,000; recipient share: $112,500)
- General Electric Global Research, Niskayuna, N.Y. - GE will identify degradation mechanisms in high-performance cathodes and develop strategies for retaining high performance over the lifetime of an operating SOFC. In addition, a thermal spray process will be developed and demonstrated for depositing ceramic "electrolyte" layers that do not separate during SOFC operation. The optimal solutions to the degradation mechanisms, including the thermal spray process, will be tested and evaluated. Ultimately, the program goal is to reduce power degradation rates while maintaining high initial power levels. (DOE award: $2,800,000; recipient share: $700,000)
Novel Fuel Cells for Coal-Based Systems
- CellTech Power, LLC, Westborough, Mass. - CellTech will develop a system-level performance analysis and a conceptual design for a direct-coal power plant based on the liquid tin anode (LTA) fuel cell. The evaluation of the technical merit and feasibility of the direct-coal power plant will lead to hardware testing in Phase II. Actual LTA-SOFC operation will be tested on coal and other fuels using subscale cell/stack hardware derived from modified portable power cells. Additionally, a design for a full-size cell for utility applications will be developed. (DOE award: $425,000; recipient share: $106,250)
- NexTech Materials, Ltd., Lewis Center, Ohio - NexTech will validate the anticipated advantages of NexTech's FlexCell technology, which include high performance and stability in sulfur-containing fuels; scalability to large cells; and potential for low-cost manufacture. They will demonstrate the performance and stability of FlexCells in synthetic gasified coal; the scalability of the FlexCell to large areas; and the potential of achieving stack-manufacturing costs of less than $100/kW. (DOE award: $450,000; recipient share: $112,500)
Sealing Systems Based on Viscous Glass
- University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio - Cincinnati will engineer and demonstrate innovative sealing concepts for SOFCs using a promising viscous glass. The glass will be engineered into a seal that is mechanically robust and reduces stresses in adjacent SOFC stack components. The proposed approach is highly generic so that it can be applied to a range of fuel-cell designs. (DOE award: $300,000; recipient share: $75,000)