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Delphi Meets Phase 1 SECA Goals with Solid Oxide Fuel Cell APU

Delphi’s generation 3.1 stack: 30 cells, 9 kg, 2.5 liters.

Delphi has reached an important milestone in developing solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology for application in an on-board auxiliary power unit (APU) in vehicles. A Delphi-led team working jointly with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy has achieved all Phase 1 goals of the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA), according to Wayne Surdoval, DOE’s SECA program manager.

Under SECA, Delphi has teamed with science and technology developer Battelle, its Pacific Northwest Division, and the DOE to reduce the SOFC APU system’s cost, as well as its mass and volume, while increasing its efficiency and durability.

Generation 3 SOFC APU system

Solid oxide fuel cells use a hard, ceramic compound of metal oxides as an electrolyte, rather than the thin, permeable polymer electrolyte sheet in a PEM. Compared to other fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells deliver more total power with relatively high efficiency. They run at much higher temperatures than PEM cells, however: more than 1,300º F (about 700º C). The APU system consists of the SOFC stack, a fuel reformer, and the balance of plant (power management, heat exchanger, and so on).

The Phase 1 test, completed by Delphi in April and validated by the DOE in May, included four key performance and cost goals. The DOE determined that Delphi’s SOFC unit met them all:

  • Peak Power Performance. The demonstration system produced peak power of 4.24 kW using methane, achieving the goal of 3-10 kW.

  • Peak Efficiency. The system demonstrated a peak efficiency of 37%, exceeding the Phase 1 goal of 35%.

  • Power Degradation. The system matched the durability goal with power degradation of just 7% over 1,500 hours of operation.

  • Factory Cost. The system met the Phase 1 goal of $800 per kW for the total power unit, assuming volume production, by achieving an estimated $770 per kW.

The Delphi team has passed an important test. In meeting SECA’s Phase 1 goals, Delphi has delivered to DOE’s National Energy Technologies Laboratory a fully operational, highly compact demonstration system, capable of meeting the space constraints of many potential mobile and stationary power applications. Their leadership at the systems level has greatly advanced this team’s progress toward a modular, broadly applicable SOFC power system by 2011.

—Wayne Surdoval

The DOE identified the SOFC as one of the ways to generate electrical power more cleanly and efficiently for a wide variety of stationary and mobile power applications. Coordinated by the DOE, SECA is currently undergoing a 3-phase, 10-year program that began in 2001 to develop the SOFC technology to help reduce US dependence on oil, while mitigating environmental concerns. SECA’s Phase 1 goals called for industry-led development teams to make meaningful progress in achieving cost, performance and durability improvements.

SECA Industry Teams and Design
Team Design
  • Electrolyte supported-planar
  • 825° C
  • Thermally matched materials
  • Seal-less stack
  • Anode supported-planar
  • 750° C
  • Ultra compact
  • Rapid transient capability
  • Anode supported-radial
  • 750° C
  • Hybrid compatible
  • Internal reforming
  • Cathode supported-flattened oval
  • 800° C
  • Seal-less stack
  • Anode supported-microtubular
  • 750° C
  • Thermally matched materials
  • Robust & rapid start-up
Energy, Inc.
  • Anode supported-planar
  • < 700° C
  • Low cost metals
  • Thermal integration

In addition to the Delphi team, there are five other industry teams working on different SOFC projects.

Delphi now moves on to Phase 2—a three-year, $45-million cost-shared contract between Delphi and the DOE. Phase 2 goals include reducing cost to $600 per kW; increasing efficiency to 40% or more; and increasing tthe powerdensity.

SECA’s final goal in Phase 3 is to deliver an SOFC power system capable of 40% or greater at a factory cost of $400 per kW. This performance will open up a wide range of mobile and stationary applications, from small-scale multi-kilowatt auxiliary power systems for vehicles and homes to larger-scale multi-megawatt industrial and utility fuel cell power plants.

Delphi has been developing SOFC systems since 1999. After demonstrating its first generation SOFC power system in 2001, Delphi teamed with Battelle under the SECA program to improve the basic cell and stack technology, while Delphi developed the system integration, system packaging and assembly, heat exchanger, fuel reformer, and power conditioning and control electronics, along with other component technologies.

Compared to its first-generation system in 2001, the Delphi-led team has reduced system volume and mass by 75%. By January 2005, the Delphi team was able to demonstrate test cells to DOE with power density more than required to meet the SECA 2011 goals.

In addition to its compactness, another benefit of the SOFC is the system fuel-efficiency, particularly if its high temperature co-product heat can be used in combination with its high electrical output. Heavy-duty trucks, for example, could utilize SOFC auxiliary power systems for both heat and electrical power when parked, to save 85% of the fuel that today they consume when idling their main engine, and likewise reduce idling emissions.

For the United States in total, extended idling of truck engines today consumes around a billion gallons of fuel annually.

SOFC systems can potentially operate on a full range of conventional and alternative fuels. This includes natural gas and conventional petroleum-based fuels like low-sulfur gasoline, diesel and propane; high-sulfur military fuels like JP-8 and jet fuel; low-CO2 renewable fuels from biomass like ethanol, methanol and biodiesel; synthetic liquid fuels from coal and natural gas; and non-hydrocarbon fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia.




A peak efficiency of 37%? That's not going to make fuel cells more compelling than electric vehicles.

A better solution would be a serial plug-in hybrid with a diesel piston engine that runs on CNG directly. It would give about the same efficiency but would be a lot cheaper and/or more powerful. It could be brought to production much more quickly, too.


The major push here seams to be towards big rigs that don't need to idle so much.


SOFCs run at over 1000F, you can cogenerate from the hot gas out of the stack with a
ceramic turbine and get over 50% efficiency. It has already been done commercially.

You also can run SOFCs on methane or methanol with no gas shift reaction,
because they use CO as a fuel the stack does not get contaminated.

allen zheng

Ceramic turbine, better try it out in an environment that could afford such expensive technology, like the military (US; Canada since they are beefing up right now). If tit works, then we can talk about cars and trucks for you and me.
____We are using light hydrocarbons for fuel cells, maybe methane bio-reactors could supply the fuel sustainably. Better than heavier hydrocarbons in H2O to CO2 ratio. It may fit a niche, with other biofuels (algae oil, biomass alcohol) taking large chunks of the rest of energy consumption (electric and transport).

tom deplume

I wonder if the bankruptcy judge will put this technology on the auction block to satisfy creditors.


Can anyone help with relevant information on SOFC + Gas turbines. Working on a feeasibility study on it which is supposed to be applying them for transportation.

A little bit confused cos some materials say it's only used in stationary applications while very few take about applying them to ships and tanks

Can anyone pls comment on this. Is there also any known application to cars?

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