Next-gen fuel cells for low-emission electricity production

Monday, 30 November, 2015

Finnish researchers are developing a long-life fuel cell system that is said to offer higher efficiency than that of competing technologies. The project will result in new, energy-efficient and commercially viable applications.

Fuel cells are used to generate low-emission electricity and heat, but their widespread adoption has so far has been hindered by their short service life and high price. These factors have been made the key development areas of the INNO-SOFC project, which aims to double the service life and halve the cost of fuel cell systems.

The project will see the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, in collaboration with Elcogen, Convion and other European partners, develop a 50 kW fuel cell system that will have an efficiency of 60% for electricity production and a total efficiency of 85%. By using solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), energy is made out of fuel and air.

In contrast to existing fuel cell technologies, the new system enables the use of conventional fuels, such as natural gas, diesel fuel and biogas, instead of pure oxygen. The fuel and the oxygen present in the air, injected into the fuel cell, produce a direct electrochemical reaction in the fuel cell, generating electricity and heat.

The new system will generate normal alternating current and will be able to be used in several different applications. For example, the systems will be used to generate electricity and heat from methane produced by biomass at wastewater treatment and biogas plants. In addition, the distribution of LNG (liquefied natural gas) will enable the use of fuel cell systems outside the current gas network.

Compared with competing systems, eg, generators powered by a combustion engine, fuel cell systems exhibit a high efficiency level, low emissions, low noise and low vibration levels. Improved efficiency is especially pronounced in applications smaller than 1000 kW in power, in which fuel cells may exhibit efficiency double that of competing technologies and produce CO2 emissions that are correspondingly lower.

The project, which commenced in September 2015, is scheduled for completion in April 2018. Elcogen will deliver the core of the system (the fuel cells), while VTT will act as the project coordinator, supporting the R&D of the companies participating in the project and validating the service life of the system and the cells.

“The companies participating in the project can expect to benefit from new competitive products and efficient value chains,” said VTT Project Manager Olli Himanen. “Simultaneously, we are making a contribution to a growing European fuel cell industry.”


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