Solid Oxide Fuel Cells Get Government Support

Researchers developing solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems have some good working days ahead of them. A new phase of research grants was awarded from the U.S. Department of Energy to help forward the technology that should make zero-emissions energy more available to the commercial market.

Washington, DC – July 21, 2004 [] Eleven projects, including private sector cost sharing of more than 20 percent, split a total grant package of US$ 4.2 million. The total works out to approximately $300,000 per project, though not all of the grants were for the same amount. Fuel cells are most commonly associated with vehicles and transportation, and the much strived for hydrogen economy. They can also be used to provide on-site electric power for households and commercial buildings, and the modular addition by utilities of new power generation closely tailored to meet growth in power consumption. “The President’s Hydrogen and Climate Initiatives envision fuel cells playing a prominent role in the economy and everyday life,” Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. “To reach the goal of zero-emissions energy, we need to reduce the costs of fuel cell acquisition and use. These projects address the last barriers to commercially viable solid oxide fuel cell systems.” The Bush Administration and the current DOE leadership have taken a particularly keen interest in fuel cells and a push towards a possible hydrogen economy’ despite the inherent challenges. Critics contend fuel cells are not a realistic near-term option for a future automobile fleet, and that the hydrogen supply would continue to be produced by the entrenched, traditional energy industries. Selected by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance Program (SECA), the grant-winning projects are focused on developing improvements in fuel cell materials and performance, as well as attaining target capital costs of less than $400 per kilowatt. The DOE says that any of these advances should make fuel cells extremely competitive with conventional power generation. Grants to universities and technology institutes will support the development of technology inside of fuel cells, such as high temperature materials that will resist the effects of sulfur, metal and glass components that will interact without adverse reactions, and thermochemically-stable sealing systems based on glasses and glass-ceramics to heal thermal cycle-induced microcracks. Private companies won grants to develop diesel fuel injection and determine what form of carbon deposition deactivates the catalyst at low steam-to-carbon ratios.