ARPA-E awards $33M to 13 intermediate-temp fuel cell projects; converting gaseous hydrocarbons to liquid fuels
19 June 2014
The US Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding $33 million to 13 new projects aimed at developing transformational fuel cell technologies for low-cost distributed power generation. The projects, which are funded through ARPA-E’s new Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems (REBELS) program, are focused on improving grid stability, balancing intermittent renewable technologies, and reducing CO2 emissions using electrochemical distributed power generation systems.
Current advanced fuel cell research generally focuses on technologies that either operate at high temperatures for grid-scale applications or at low temperatures for vehicle technologies. ARPA-E’s new REBELS projects focus on low-cost Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cells (ITFCs) emphasizing three technical approaches: the production of efficient, reliable ITFCs; the integration of ITFCs and electricity storage at the device level; and the use of ITFCs to convert methane or other gaseous hydrocarbons into liquid fuels using excess energy.
|Category 1: Intermediate Temperature Fuel Cells for Distributed Generation|
|Redox Power Systems||Low-Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells
Redox Power Systems will develop a fuel cell with a mid-temperature operating target of 400 °C while maintaining high power density and enabling faster cycling. Using a combination of oxide materials that have traditionally been unstable alone, a new two-layer electrolyte configuration will allow these materials to be used in a manner that increases system power density while maintaining stability. Redox’s new material configuration also allows the operating temperature to be reduced when incorporated into commercially fabricated fuel cells. The fuel cells will have a startup time of less than 10 minutes, making them more responsive to demand.
|SAFCell||Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack
SAFCell will develop solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) that will operate at 250oC and are nearly free of precious metal catalysts. The team will dramatically lower system costs by reducing precious metals, such as platinum, from the electrodes and developing new catalysts based on carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. The proposed SAFC stack design will lead to the creation of fuel cells that can withstand common fuel impurities, making them ideal for distributed generation applications.
|Oak Ridge National Laboratory||Nanocomposite Electrodes for a Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will redesign a fuel cell electrode that operates at 250 ˚C using highly porous carbon nanostructures that dramatically increase the amount of surface area, lowering the amount of expensive platinum catalysts used in the cell. The team will also modify existing fuel processors to operate efficiently at reduced temperatures, and those processors will work in conjunction with the fuel cell to lower costs at the system level. ORNL’s innovations will enable efficient distributed electricity generation from domestic fuel sources using less expensive catalysts.
|United Technologies Research Center||Metal Supported Proton Conducting Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack
The United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) will develop an intermediate-temperature fuel cell for residential applications that will combine a building’s heating and power systems into one unit. Currently, metal-supported fuel cells use high-temperature electrolytes; using an intermediate temperature electrolyte will allow an operating temperature of 500°C while a redesigned cell architecture will increase the efficiency and lower the cost of UTRC’s overall system.
|Colorado School of Mines||Fuel-Flexible Protonic Ceramic Fuel Cell Stack
The Colorado School of Mines (CSM) will develop a mixed proton and oxygen ion conducting electrolyte that allows a fuel cell to operate at temperatures less than 500 °C, which is a departure from today’s ceramic fuel cells. Additionally, the team will leverage a recently developed ceramic processing technique that decreases fuel cell manufacturing cost and complexity by reducing the number of manufacturing steps from 15 to 3 to provide low-cost power for distributed generation applications.
|Georgia Tech Research Corporation||Fuel Cell Tailored for Efficient Utilization of Methane
Georgia Tech Research Corporation will develop a fuel cell that operates at temperatures less than 500°C by integrating nanostructured materials into all cell components. The Georgia Tech team will fabricate electrodes to directly process methane and develop nanocomposite electrolytes to reduce cell temperature without sacrificing system performance. These advances will enable an efficient, intermediate-temperature fuel cell for distributed generation applications.
|Palo Alto Research Center||Reformer-less Fuel Cell
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will develop an intermediate-temperature fuel cell that is capable of utilizing a wide variety of carbon-based input fuels. This design will include a novel electrolyte membrane system that transports oxygen in a form that allows it to react directly with almost any fuel. This membrane eliminates the need for a separate fuel processing system, which reduces overall costs. Further, PARC’s cell will operate at relatively low temperatures of 200-300 ̊C, avoiding the long-term durability problems associated with existing higher-temperature fuel cells.