Fuel cell focus
Taking a direct approach to commercialisation1 October 2004
According to its supplier, MTU CFC Solutions, the 250 kWe/180 kWt field test demonstration HotModule at the Rhön-Klinikum hospital in Bad Neustadt, Franconia, set a new world record for high temperature fuel cells by logging over 21 000 operating hours before it was closed down in July. The module is now back with the supplier for analysis and inspection.
FuelCell Energy (FCE) of Danbury, Connecticut, announced in October that its European strategic partner, MTU CFC Solutions, has placed an order for carbonate fuel cell components for three new field demonstration HotModule power plants, rated at 250 kWe/180 kWt. Delivery is expected in late 2004 and early 2005. One will provide CHP in Krefeld, one will be installed in a municipal wastewater treatment facility in Ahlen, while the site of the third has yet to be announced.
MTU's HotModule power plant is based on FuelCell Energy's Direct FuelCell technology, using fuel cells manufactured in FCE's Connecticut manufacturing facility.
There are currently eight HotModule plants in field trial operation in Germany and Spain. Three further units, having completed their field trial programmes, are now shut down for evaluation (Dorsten, University of Bielefeld and Bad Neustadt).
One of the eight plants, a dual fuel 250 kW carbonate fuel cell power unit for Vattenfall/BeWag, a Berlin-based utility, will operate on natural gas, methanol from organic waste/biomass generated from refuse from the city of Berlin, or a mix of both fuels, the first of its kind in Europe.
This fuel flexibility is a distinct advantage offered by the HotModule, say its developers.
In June RWE Fuel Cells GmbH, since July 2003 a 25.1% stakeholder in MTU CFC Solutions, announced the signing of an agreement for the installation of the Ahlen HotModule power plant. This will be the first carbonate fuel cell to operate on anaerobic digester gas in Europe.
MTU CFC Solutions was initially established, in January 2003, as a 100% subsidiary of MTU Friedrichshafen, itself a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler.
Meanwhile, in September, FuelCell Energy announced it had finalised its award with the US Department of Energy for a three-year first phase project within the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) programme. The project is funded by a $24 million co-operative agreement cost-shared by the DOE and the FuelCell Energy team, which includes Versa Power Systems, Materials and Systems Research Inc, Gas Technology Institute, University of Utah, Electric Power Research Institute, Dana Corporation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
This first phase aims to develop stationary modules in the 3-10 kW range and scaleable systems for applications up to 100 kW, operating on natural gas at a target efficiency of 45%. Phase 2 and 3 will aim to raise efficiencies to 50% and 55%, extending fuel sources to propane and diesel, and evaluate hybrids with gas turbines and Stirling engines.
The FuelCell Energy team is one of six industrial teams involved in SECA, in addition to the 20 or so research organisations providing R&D input to the Core Technology component of the programme (see italic panel below).
The basic strategy of the FuelCell Energy team is to lower the fuel cell operating temperature. Current ceramic fuel cells tend to operate at over 1000 ° C. By bringing this down to 700 °C, the hope is to make use of less exotic alloys, reduce insulation, strengthen seals and generally drive out costs.
By lowering the operating temperature, FuelCell Energy also hopes to transfer experience from carbonate fuel cells, in which the company has specialised up until now, to the solid oxide arena. The company has recently made two strategic investments in SOFC technology: an investment in Versa Power Systems (August 2003) and the acquisition of Global Thermoelectric Inc (November 2003).
If successfully commercialised, the new SOFC products would be complementary to FuelCell Energy's larger scale molten carbonate based Direct FuelCell product line, the company believes.
This product line includes the 250 kW DFC300A, the 1 MW DFC1500 and the DFC3000, which is essentially two DFC1500 modules. The first DFC1500 began operating at King County wastewater treatment plant, outside Seattle, in July 2004. It initially operated on natural gas and recently switched over to anaerobic digester gas from the wastewater treatment facility.
The first DFC3000 is located at the Wabash River IGCC plant in Indiana, and within the next few months is expected to become the first industrial scale fuel cell to be operated on coal-derived synthesis gas.
SECA to jump start the SOFC band wagon
The Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) hopes to accelerate commercialisation of SOFC technology by removing what are seen as existing barriers to development and creating a 3-10 kW unit that can be mass produced in modular form at a target cost of $400/kW. Used individually or in clusters, depending upon the amount of energy required, these fuel cells could be configured for a broad array of applications. As the number of fuel cell uses grow, the idea is that unit costs will fall when high volume production technologies are brought to bear.
SECA is a collaborative effort of US industry, universities, and other research organisations that is said to represent "a new model for joint government and private industry technology development." The effort is being co-ordinated by two US Department of Energy national laboratories – the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
There are two main elements of the SECA effort: Industrial Development Teams; and the Core Technology Program.
• Industrial Development Teams. Six teams of industry partners, including the one led by FuelCell Energy (see main article), are participating. The other five team leaders are: Acumentrics; Cummins; Delphi Automotive Systems; GE; and Siemens Westinghouse.
The manufacturing capability and packaging needed for different markets will be developed by these teams for applications ranging from land-based power generation systems to automotive auxiliary power units. The teams will design elements, develop materials, and also deploy the technologies needed to achieve breakthrough performance. The development process to be followed by these teams will be competitive and will also provide incentives for keeping costs low.
• Core Technology Program. This supports the industrial development teams by providing the problem-solving research needed to overcome barriers identified by the industry teams. The Core Technology results will be made available to all industrial teams. Around twenty universities, national laboratories, and other research-oriented organisations are participating in the Core Technology Program.