Fuel Cell Technologies to Use Renewable Biogas

Four fuel cell technologies include phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFC), proton exchange membrane (PEM), solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) and molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFC), and advances are being driven by the discovery of new materials, new manufacturing processes, and significant support from government and private industry.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-12-28 [SolarAccess.com] Companies and governments are spending US$1 billion a year to develop fuel cell technology, says Mark Williams at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, who expects the fuel cell market to grow from $50 million this year to $20 billion a year by 2010. The U.S. Department of Energy has formed the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance, a $500 million government and industry initiative to achieve mass production of low-cost ceramic fuel cells within ten years. The goal is to produce 5 kW fuel cell modules that can be stacked and mass customized for various applications. DOE has already selected four projects for the first stage of this program. If all projects proceed as planned, the department will provide $271 million over the next ten years and project teams will finance $226 million. “The biggest issue is reducing the initial cost; that is why the drive of our program emphasizes cost even more than efficiency,” says George Rudins of DOE. “As soon as we can get the cost down, the market will continue to expand on its own.” Each project will be divided into three phases. The first phase will last four years, during which the teams will aim for $800/kW; in the next two phases of three years each, they will trim costs to $400/kW. At each stage, fuel-to-energy efficiencies will be enhanced, ultimately reaching 60 to 70 percent. Observers believe that, in the long term, cost must get down to $50/kW in order to be competitive in the transportation market against gasoline engines. Siemens Westinghouse plans to commercialize SOFC cogeneration systems in the 250 to 1,000 kW range, with commercial deliveries in 2004. In a trial with Holland’s EnergieNed, they operated a 100 kW SOFC system for 12,600 hours with no degradation in performance. “I believe the fact that there has been no performance degradation over such a long period of operation is unique among all types of fuel cells,” explains Ray George of Siemens Westinghouse. When it was shut down, it was providing 110 kW (electrical) into the local utility grid with an efficiency of 46 percent. Emissions of NOx, SOx, CO and VHCs were below 1 ppm. Fuel cells will play a role in DOE’s Vision 21 concept for future power, where plants would consist of modular components that can use any fuel source to generate electricity in combination with liquid fuels and chemicals or industrial process heat. They could run off of coal, gas, biomass, petroleum or municipal waste, depending on the modules installed at a particular plant. The biomass fuel cell project at Umwelt-Campus Birkenfeld in Germany has identified a viable and cost-effective route to use biogas in a fuel cell. A pilot plant will be constructed to use a gas cleaning process to achieve balance between investment, operating cost and income from generation. The plant will exemplify a new technology option for generating power from biogas, helping to advance the use of renewable energies in fuel cells. As part of its Vision 21 Program, DOE has funded five projects, where the goal is to develop hybrid systems with electrical efficiency of 70 percent by 2010. DOE believes that fuel cell/turbine hybrids could realize a 25 percent increase in efficiency and corresponding reduction in cost for a comparably sized fuel cell.

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