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NETL’s work with solid oxide fuel cells is enhancing the nation’s electric grid by generating combustion-free power with minimal environmental impact. The Lab is now extending its research vision to develop reversible solid oxide cells, which can alternately either generate power or produce clean-burning fuel. Solid oxide cells operate in two modes: fuel cell mode and electrolysis mode. Solid oxide cells operating in fuel cell mode are known as solid oxide fuel cells, or SOFCs, while solid oxide cells operating in electrolysis mode are known as solid oxide electrolysis cells, or SOECs. SOFCs convert chemical energy from a fuel directly into electrical energy. A fuel source such as hydrogen, natural gas or syngas is fed into the cell, and electricity, water and/or CO2 are produced as byproducts. Since SOFCs produce electricity through an electrochemical reaction and not through a combustion process, they are much more environmentally friendly than conventional electric power generation methods due to higher efficiencies, reduced water usage and reduced CO2 emissions.
SOFC
NETL researchers are exploring how heterogeneity, or a lack of uniform structure and composition, on a microscopic level can affect the performance of solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) components. SOFCs, which, like batteries, create electricity directly through electrochemical reactions, are extremely efficient, require minimal water consumption and generate almost no emissions; however, SOFCs face issues with reliability, durability and cost. NETL researchers are working to overcome these problems by studying what effect heterogeneity has on fuel cell degradation, helping to clear the way to commercial development.
Microstructures
NETL researchers are using the Lab’s cutting-edge computational tools to model thousands of simulated microstructures as they seek to boost the performance and longevity of energy-efficient, near-zero-emission solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). SOFCs can efficiently convert a variety of abundant domestic fuels — including coal and natural gas — into clean power via electrochemical reactions. SOFCs are highly efficient and produce far less carbon dioxide, require very little water and use less fuel while providing the same amount of electricity, compared to today’s combustion-based fossil energy technologies. One of the primary obstacles to widespread commercialization of SOFCs is degradation, a gradual decline in performance that limits a fuel cell’s lifespan. Several suspected contributors to performance degradation are tied to the microstructural composition of the positive and negative electrodes, which are stacked on either side of an electrolyte within an SOFC to facilitate chemical reactions.
Clearpath Pre-event photo
ClearPath Foundation, a non-profit organization that specializes in developing policies and research that supports clean energy initiatives through small government, free markets, and American innovation will visit NETL in Morgantown, West Virginia, Tuesday, Dec. 4 to learn about the Laboratory’s work on carbon capture and storage, solid oxide fuel cells, systems engineering analysis, chemical looping, and hybrid performance – technology research areas with potential for advancing clean energy innovations. According to NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., in addition to advancing public policy initiatives in support of clean energy initiatives including carbon capture and storage research, ClearPath has helped fund the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama, which works to accelerate the commercialization of advanced technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both natural gas and coal power generation. NETL has a history of working with the Center to install and evaluate promising carbon capture technologies for scale-up and future commercial deployment.
NETL NEWS
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected 16 projects to receive approximately $13.5 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development (R&D) projects that will advance solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technologies.
FOA Logo
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced up to $32.5 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development (R&D) to advance solid oxide fuel cell technologies (SOFC). The selected projects will fall under the Office of Fossil Energy’s two funding opportunity announcements (FOAs):Preliminary Design and Techno-Economic Analysis of MWe-Class Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Systems and Solid Oxide Fuel Cells Core Technology Research. SOFC R&D will enable efficient, cost-effective electricity generation from abundant domestic coal and natural gas resources, with minimal use of water and near-zero atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants.
FOA Logo
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected two projects to receive approximately $2.8 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development projects. The projects will advance solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology and make progress toward enabling cost-competitive fossil-based power generation with near-zero emission. Fuel cells are a modular, efficient, and virtually pollution-free power generation technology. The selected projects are advancing to Phase II after they were chosen from Phase I awards made under the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) DE-FOA-0001469 Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Core Technology and Innovative Concepts, which was issued in fiscal year 2015. The Phase II projects were selected from recipients of the Core Technology topic area. Selected projects will culminate in testing technology advancements at the system level by participating SOFC manufacturer partners. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage the selected projects. Project descriptions for the two selectees follow:
Fuel Cell Aray
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected 16 projects to receive $10.2 million in funding to advance solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology. The new projects were selected under funding opportunity announcement DE-FOA-000 1735, Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Prototype System Testing and Core Technology Development, which supports development of reliable and robust SOFC technology for first-of-a-kind fuel cell systems. The applied research projects will address the technical issues facing the cost and reliability of SOFC technology and conduct field testing of an integrated prototype system project intended to validate the solutions to those issues. The projects fall under two distinct topic areas. Topic Area 1—SOFC Prototype System Testing
Scanning Electron Microsopy
Fuel cell technology is a unique form of energy creation—an efficient, quiet, and clean method of transforming an energy source (such as propane, diesel, or natural gas) into electricity. Traditional fossil-fuel power generation technology produce energy through combustion—harnessing the energy of a chemical reaction to power the mechanical processes that produce electricity. This is often a noisy process, and produces exhausts and toxic fumes that must be carefully contained. Fuel cells, in comparison, transform their energy sources into electricity through a direct chemical process, effectively converting fuel into energy with little byproducts or waste.
Button Fuel Cells
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a promising technology that can efficiently produce energy using fossil fuels with no moving parts and low emissions, present a particularly perplexing economic challenge: current systems operate at maximum efficiency between 700 and 1000 degrees Celsius, but such high temperatures shorten their service life, requiring more frequent fuel cell stack replacements. Lowering the operating temperature makes them last longer, but requires additional cells in the stack to deliver the same performance, and that drives up costs. Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are searching for answers to create SOFCs that can effectively operate at lower temperatures with a longer life-span by taking a deep look inside fuel cells on a microstructural level. It is a process that involves an integrated research effort across NETL, its research and industry partners, and their combined expertise in modeling, analysis, and characterization. Their work could lead to an effective and economical coal-based option for utility-scale power generation.