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Ceres Power scales up “Steel Cell” SOFC fuel cell production capability with Innovate UK funding

UK-based Ceres Power Holdings, a spin-out from Imperial College, has completed a manufacturing scale-up project that enables high volume production capability for its Steel Cell solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) fuel cell technology, a key step towards mass market commercialization of its unique fuel cell technology in response to growing market opportunities. The SOFC uses natural gas as a fuel to produce electricity.

Ceres Power recently signed a new Joint Development Agreement with Honda R&D jointly to develop stacks using Ceres Power’s metal-supported Steel Cell technology for a range of potential power equipment applications. (Earlier post.)

Ceres Power cell technology is based on a patented steel cell using cerium gadolinium oxide (CGO) as the electrolyte, thus permitting operating temperatures of 500-620 °C compared to ≥700 ˚C for conventional SOFCs using yttria stabilized zirconia (YSZ) electrolyte. Further, the use of a metal support allows much greater mechanical robustness than is typically the case with a planar ceramic SOFC, while maintaining the high volumetric power density typical of planar SOFCs.

The combination of low operating temperature—with the related ability to use lower cost materials—metal support and careful optimization of the microstructure of the ceramic layers allows low cell, stack and balance of plant cost and high robustness to real-world operating conditions.

SOFC technology in principle offers the possibility of very high efficiency electrical power generation from either hydrocarbon fuels or hydrogen, and thus if adopted widely has the potential to significantly reduce primary energy consumption and the associated carbon dioxide emissions. Whilst considerable progress has been made in the development of SOFC technology towards competitiveness with more established power generation technology, a number of inherent problems remain with conventional ceramic-based SOFC technology.

The key challenges associated with conventional SOFC technology are mostly related to the high cost of cell, stack and balance-of-plant components, and robustness to real-world operating conditions, particularly unplanned fuel interruptions at operating temperature and thermal cycling. The high cost of components makes it difficult to make SOFC-based power generation systems which have compelling consumer business cases without government subsidy. The poor robustness to likely real-world operating conditions either reduces product life or drives complexity, as additional systems are required to protect the SOFC stack from the effect of failures elsewhere.

Ceres Power has developed a novel and highly differentiated SOFC technology based upon the use of thick-film ceramics deposited upon a ferritic stainless steel substrate, using doped ceria as the predominant oxygen-ion conducting ceramic within the cell.

—Leah et al. (2015)

Ceres Power fabricates the individual Steel Cells by screen printing layers of ceramic ink onto a drilled sheet of steel. Achieving these high quality ceramic layers at low temperature on steel is the core of Ceres’ intellectual property. Exclusive to Ceres is the use of Ceria in the anode and electrolyte. Ceria is as abundant as copper and is used industrially for dyeing glass, self-cleaning ovens and catalytic converters in cars.

Ceres2
Schematic representation of a Ceres Power Steel Cell. Leah et al. (2015) Click to enlarge.

The new high-speed print line at Ceres’ manufacturing facility in Horsham has reduced ceramic on steel print-cycle time from 30 seconds to just 3 seconds, representing a 10-fold increase in processing speed, demonstrating that Ceres’ processes are consistent with low-cost, high-volume manufacturing and corroborating the Steel Cell as a potentially disruptive low-cost fuel cell technology.

This project has been successfully delivered by Ceres in partnership with ASM Alternative Energy (ASM AE), the global provider of screen printing equipment and part-funded by £0.7 million (US$1 million) from Innovate UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative. By using standard processes developed for the solar industry and conventional materials such as steel, this project has been key to demonstrate that the Steel Cell can be mass-produced at an affordable price.

The innovative print line is the first of its kind and has been created by combining ASM AE’s existing high-speed photovoltaic manufacturing processes and Eclipse printing solutions with Ceres’ own existing manufacturing capabilities.

Ceres sees growing opportunities for its fuel cell technology across a range of mass-market power applications and is working with leading power systems companies worldwide, including Honda, as noted earlier, as it delivers against its strategy of establishing the Steel Cell as the platform of choice for future power products.

Resources

(A hat-tip to David!)

  • Robert Timothy Leah, Adam Bone, Mike Lankin, Ahmet Selcuk, Mahfujur Rahman, Andrew Clare, Lee Rees, Stephen Phillip, Subhasish Mukerjee, and Mark Selby (2015) “Ceres Power Steel Cell Technology: Rapid Progress Towards a Truly Commercially Viable SOFC,” ECS Trans. 68(1): 95-107; doi: 10.1149/06801.0095ecst

  • R. Leah, A. Bone, M. Lankin, A. Selcuk, R. Pierce, L. Rees, D. Corcoran, P. Muhl, Z. Dehaney-Steven, C. Brackenbury, M. Selby and S. Mukerjee (2013) “Low-Cost, REDOX-Stable, Low-Temperature SOFC Developed by Ceres Power for Multiple Applications: Latest Development Update” ECS Transactions, 57 (1) 461-470 doi: 10.1149/05701.0461ecst

Comments

Davemart

Typically Mike, after a lead to a rather thin story at Fuel Cells Works, has done the spadework to inform us far more fully about this important technology.


Kudos.

Davemart

Lots more juicy technical details here:
http://www.cerespower.com/admin/resources/sofc-xiv-ceres-progress-towards-a-commercially-viable-sofc-final.pdf

Testing includes stop/start cycles for durability.

And they have hit their 2016 target of 55% electrical efficiency mentioned as a target in the pdf:

http://newenergytreasure.com/2015/12/11/world-record-fuel-cell-efficiency-achieved/

With 90% plus electrical and thermal efficiency, enormous amounts of energy can be saved relative to burning natural gas centrally.

The modular nature of fuel cells means power right where you want it, and they combine well with solar and renewables.

Davemart

Good video overview here:

http://www.cerespower.com/about/our-business

Calgarygary

We have a pretty good solar resource where I live however there are intermittent periods where storage or backup is required. My guess is that for a household like mine to go offgrid at a competitive price to current rates the full cost of panels (5-7 kw) + Storage (10-15 kwh) + backup (<5kw) would have to be in the range of $20,000.

I think you'd need to be a DIY sort to get close to that today but 5 years from now it could be very different. The interesting feature of the fuel cell is that in most cases you'll be able to use the waste energy as heat.

Detailed data analysis could probably optimize the sizing of the components. With pretty good weather forecasts I'd expect you can probably optimize the operation as well.

Davemart

Hi Calgarygary.

Ideally fuel cells would be reversible, so that excess solar could be stored as hydrogen.

It does not look as though that is possible with this technology, or at least the present variant, but certainly in Germany houses are installing fuel cells as part of their Energiewende efforts, so that integration with renewables will be towards the top of the list.

The problem is, that by the time you have solar arrays, fuel cells, maybe batteries, the costs of amortising them keep rising.

They are pretty conservative though in their estimate of 25% energy savings compared to conventional generation.

SJC

The main feature with SOFCs is they can take natural gas in as a fuel. This is good for hospitals, banks and other businesses that can not have power interruptions.

HarveyD

The FCs world is expanding again. By 2025 or so, FCs will efficiently transform energy in order to store REs at an affordable cost.

Ideally, with higher energy density, future FCs could use higher energy carbon fuels to supply on-board electricity for various types of EVs including e-planes?

Calgarygary

A recent story on our national CBC TV news cited a study out of Stanford suggesting that Canada could be completely reliant on non-fossil fuel energy by 2050. I found it quite surprising as I'd assumed we would require natural gas for heat for some time. I haven't seen the study but I'd imagine they are presuming a lot of hydrogen from renewables. I don't think they were assuming much nuclear either.

Of course all this is based on speculation about technological progress.

Its interesting to note that in my household of 3 adults the amount of money spent on electricity is a bit more than 1/3 of what we spend on cell phones, internet, and cable. We easily absorb a 50% increase in electricity costs without noticing it much.

sd

From Davemart's ref

The fuel cell by the British company, Ceres Power, called a “Steel Cell”, has achieved a world record 55% efficiency at converting hydrogen to electricity. And just as a amazingly, a 90% efficiency when combined with heat output. Various Korean & Chinese OEMs have already been licensed to develop power systems using the unique Steel Cell technology.

I would not get very excited about this. The large combined cycle natural gas turbines are getting close to 60% thermal to electric efficiency and do not have the loses associated with converting natural gas to hydrogen. Also, my furnace runs at about 95% efficiency. WTF

SJC

SOFCs convert natural gas to CO and H2 internally, there is NO external reformer. They also use the CO as fuel, with an external exhaust gas turbine they are more efficient, building heating and cooling makes them even more efficient.

Calgarygary

sd

But your furnace cannot generate electricity. A furnace costs around $5000 but I wonder if it couldn't be replaced with a fuel cell and electric heat. I think I'd need at least a a 10 kw fuel cell since on the coldest days here I'll burn at a gj of gas. If the fuel cell is cheap enough and durable enough then I'd expect dumping the furnace would work. The efficiency of the cells wouldn't matter that much since in most cases you'd be able to use the waste heat anyways.

Note I'm paying about 8 cents per kwh for wires and administration above the 5 cents for electrons.

sd

SJC

Just going by what is stated. They quoted 55% efficiency converting HYDROGEN to electricity. A SOFC may convert methane to H2 and CO internally but it does not do it without consuming energy.

HarveyD

Well insulated hot water tanks are very cheap and could be an ideal place to dump easy to recover excess heat.

Most energy transformers produce heat. Using the excess heat normally raises the efficiency of most energy transformation/storage units.

Davemart

Hi sd:

Good catch on what the link said.
Having checked back the rest of my references though I think they are in error, and the efficiency is NG-electricity, as it is referred to as 'net electrical efficiency' in the pdf and elsewhere.

As for the efficiency of GCGT, that is for whacking great units, the process heat is normally thrown away, and you still need to transmit it over the grid, with in the US typically 6% or so losses.

The fuel cell can make the electricity where needed, and use the process heat for hot water.

Your combi boiler is 95% efficient at heating water, and produces no electricity.

John Burns

How does it work? Is there a burner? It doesn't say. If there is a burner then there is waste heat in the exhaust process, then this can be harnessed to be usefully used.

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