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Norway-US Project Developing Diesel/Biodiesel, Cool Flame Reformer and Solid-Acid Fuel Cell APU

Norway’s Nordic Power Systems (NPS) and California-based SAFCell Inc., in collaboration with Caltech, are testing the combination of a cool flame fuel reformer and a solid-acid fuel cell (SAFC) as the core components of a new electric auxiliary power unit (APU). The power supply unit can run on biodiesel as well as regular diesel.

In trials, a 250-W solid-acid fuel cell stack ran on both pure hydrogen and on hydrogen produced from diesel by the unit’s reformer, with only an insignificant difference in performance. This result, noted SAFCell, showed that the fuel cell could operate with up to 10% CO without any effect on the performance.

The electric generator is being developed and produced by the Norwegian company Nordic Power Systems (NPS). SAFCell Inc., established to market and commercialize the solid acid fuel cell (SAFC) technology developed and patented at the California Institute of Technology, is delivering the stack. Dag Øvrebø, Technical Director of NPS, has been working closely with Caltech on this technology.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway under its RENERGI program. The project has an overall budget of NOK 11.8 million (US$2 million), with NOK 5.9 million(US$1 million) of funding under the RENERGI program.

Cool flame reformer. A significant challenge in designing a diesel reformer is the creation of an optimized mixture of fuel and oxidant before contact with the catalysts, while preventing autoignition. Several approaches to solving this have been taken, including direct evaporation in preheated steam and or cool flame reforming.

Unfavourable mixtures of liquid fuels, water and air lead to degradation by local hot spots in the sensitive catalysts and to formation of unwanted by-products in the reformer. Furthermore the vaporiser has to work with dynamic changes in the heat transfer, residence times and educt compositions.

By using exothermal pre-reactions in the form of cool flames it is possible to realise a complete and residue-free evaporation of liquid hydrocarbon mixtures. The conditions whether cool flames can be stabilised or not is related to the heat release of the pre-reactions in comparison to the heat losses of the system.

—Hartmann et al.

NPS acquired licensing rights to the cool flame reformer technology developed at RWTH Aachen University in the late 1990s. The reformer converts hydrocarbons into hydrogen, CO2 and heat. Due to the unit’s high efficiency, CO2 emissions are substantially lower than in conventional combustion engines, and no other demonstrable exhaust is discharged—i.e., diesel particulates, black carbon soot, NOx and carbon monoxide (CO) are eliminated. The reformer emits no smoke or odor, according to NPS.

SAFC. Superprotonic solid-acid fuel cells are a new type of fuel cell, developed by a group led by Sossina Haile of the California Institute of Technology. Unlike other fuel cells, SAFCs operate at warm temperatures using a solid acid electrolyte. Solid acids are chemical intermediates between normal salts and normal acids—“acid salts”. The solid acids support direct H+ transport, are humidity insensitive, and are impermeable.

The occurrence of liquid-like proton transport in a noncorrosive, solid material implies unique opportunities for new approaches to fuel cell design, construction, and operation, SAFCell notes.

The current generation of SAFCell stacks operate at mid-range temperatures around 250 °C, and tolerate fuel impurities that pose obstacles to other fuel cell technologies. This allows SAFCell stacks to run more easily on commercially available gas fuels (e.g., propane and butane) or liquid fuels (e.g., methanol, diesel and bio-oils), further reducing the overall fuel cell system complexity and cost.

In 2009, NPS secured usage rights to the new US solid-acid technology for use with various fuel types such as diesel and biofuels.

Tor-Geir Engebretsen, Managing Director of NPS said that now that they have demonstrated that the solid-acid technology works, the next step is to test a larger unit of 1.2 kW.

Engebretsen points out that since the technology is scalable, it is well suited for future generators in electric vehicles. The company’s first market is power supply for the defence industry; NPS has a technology development agreement with the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces. In addition, NPS has a product development agreement with Marshall Land Systems, of the UK, with the aim of supplying silent-running generators for the British Armed Forces.

If all goes according to plan, the unit being developed with Marshall will be ready for market launch by mid-2011, while the solid-acid fuel cell will be phased in somewhat later. An assembly plant in Høyanger, Norway, is scheduled to open in early 2012 with Industrial Development Corporation of Norway (SIVA) as contractor.




Interesting alternative for alternative for future PHEV gensets with less pollution, lower noise and possible higher efficiency. Will price ever come down as low as ICE gensets? If not, government policies could help.


The solid-acid electrolyte is a big advance. The operating temperature is comparable to Zebra cells, and is also suitable for processing CO to H2 using the water-gas shift.


most interested to see CC attatched to thes cool flame units.
Many argue that Carbon capture is not a viable technology but if it is to be, then these seperater units will be the most likelty to demonstrate comercial viability owing to the concentration of C as waste product.


The ability to run on propane, butane, without reforming is a positive step. CO from industrial or municipal waste can form the basis for WGS yielding H2 for low cost FCs.

IF a municipal waste to syngas plant was designed to make both syngas and H2 - it could be a good source of H2 for Residential Power Units. And EV range extenders.


The solid acid is the key and what makes these cells so important. Why because they don't care about the ~10% CO gas in the reformate this reduces the cost of the reformer drastically, and allows any hydrocarbon to be used for fuel, be it Alcohols(C2-8),Methane,LPG,JP8&5(military applications),Jet A,Petrol,Gasoil,or any number of biooils and advanced fuels like DME,DMF pretty much if it has carbon and hydrogen a reformer can turn it to hydrogen rich syngas, with a water gas shift to keep the CO levels below 10% the cell is happy as a clam. make this at 15kw continuous and have a small pure 02 pressure boosting system using o2 air separating tech similar to what medical o2 machines use to make o2 in real time for the elderly, feeding a small medium pressure 20bar O2 tank to triple the peak power rating Air is only 20% O2;pulsing at slightly higher than atmo pressure 90+% O2 at the cell can triple its output in seconds for passing and hill climbing.

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