Coal-based fuel cells get jump-start

SIEMENS Power Generation has signed a 10-year cooperative agreement with the United States’ Department of Energy to develop fuel cell technology for large power stations, using coal-based fuel to produce efficient and “environmentally friendly” power.

Sabian Wilde

The goal of the $US85 million three-phase project is development of a scalable coal-based fuel cell technology that operates at more than 50% fuel efficiency while capturing 90% of CO2 emissions.

The program is expected to provide key technology to enable carbon-dioxide separation and sequestration under the DoE’s FutureGen program.

FutureGen is a $US1 billion project to create the world’s first coal-based, zero-emissions electricity and hydrogen production power plant.

Siemens PG said it would develop a MegaWatt-class fuel-cell/gas-turbine hybrid power system to operate on coal-derived synthesis gas capable of meeting the energy efficiency and CO2 capture targets.

The new hybrid power system will be designed to scale up to produce more than 100MW.

Siemens estimated that once commercial quantities were available it could reduce the cost per kilowatt to $US400 for the power island of an integrated gasification fuel cell (IGFC) power plant – little more than 10% of the cost of commercially available fuel cell technologies, according to the DoE.

The president of Siemens’ Stationary Fuel Cells division, Thomas Flower, said the program would evolve technology developed under Siemens’ solid oxide fuel cell development programs as part of its solid state energy conversion alliance program.

“The advanced SOFC from our SECA program will be optimized for operation at elevated pressure, and its dimensions will be scaled up to the largest practical values,” he said.

Solid oxide fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert energy in a fuel into electricity much like a battery. Due to the operating temperature, valuable heat is recoverable for use in heating and cooling applications [see related stories].

"The baseline design also incorporates an air separation unit to provide oxygen for the plant, as well as unique thermal integration of the SOFC with the oxygen system to save additional energy," Flower said.

Siemens will work with technology partners ConocoPhilliips (gasification) and Air Products (oxygen membranes) to develop the fuel cell technology for maximum operating efficiencies.

Siemens Stationary Fuel Cells, headquartered in Pennsylvania, plans to commercialise smaller SOFC systems (5-1000kW) with pre-commercial deliveries in the 2008-09 time frame.

The DoE is also funding research with five other industrial research groups for the FutureGen project, including a team headed by the Delphi Corporation, working with leading researchers from Battelle.

The Delphi team reported this year it had also developed a system that met the $US400/kW target.

Automation Industry

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