The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has announced up to $30 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development projects under a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0002300) for Small-Scale Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Systems and Hybrid Energy Systems.
This FOA seeks to develop advanced technologies that can progress the present state of small-scale solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) hybrid systems using solid oxide electrolyzer cell (SOEC) technologies to a point of commercial readiness for hydrogen production and power generation. It also seeks validation of SOFC using syngas from gasification facilities.
This FOA will solicit applications for multiple areas of interest and will correspond to research outlined in DOE’s August 2019 report to Congress, Report on the Status of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Program.
Applications will be sought for three areas of interest:
Small-scale distributed power generation SOFC systems. SOFC systems currently available for distributed power generation applications are primarily large-scale (100 kW+). This FOA is focused on small-scale applications (5-25 kW), for which there is a near-term market (e.g., data centers).
For both large and small-scale distributed power generation SOFC systems, the overall system cost is high, thereby limiting commercial acceptance. Thus, SOFC systems available today are heavily subsidized. Their path to cost reduction is through higher volume, resulting in the consumption of more subsidies. In contrast, the primary objective of FE’s SOFC program is to first lower the cost of SOFC systems through R&D to a level where they are cost-competitive with alternate technologies with minimal subsidies (at lower volume), justifying government funding. Further cost reduction, to a subsidy free level, can then be achieved through higher volume assisted by private funding.
Hybrid systems using solid oxide systems for hydrogen and electricity production. The SOFC, as a fuel cell mode which produces electricity and water and carbon dioxide if natural gas is used as a fuel, can function as an electrolyzer mode to produce hydrogen with byproducts of oxygen and carbon monoxide. This configuration is known as a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) or reversible solid oxide fuel cells (R-SOFC).
Hydrogen or chemicals such as syngas can be produced using different energy sources (fossil, nuclear, renewables) in SOEC mode from one configuration of SOFC/SOEC. The DOE is interested in the SOEC system for the production of hydrogen, syngas and as potential energy storage devices and there is also a high level of interest in the production of hydrogen from water splitting via an electrolytic process.
While SOFCs have already demonstrated success in power generateion and are on a path to commercialization for that purpose, commercial SOEC systems are not available on the market and long term degradation data of a SOEC system level is not well established at their operating temperatures and atmospheres. R&D on new materials, stack design, BOP and control system to both produce hydrogen for energy storage and reverse these systems to generate electricity is critical to the integration into the grid functioning both for hydrogen and power production. Hydrogen production from SOEC systems needs to allow support for projects that have existing SOEC systems to continue to improve long term operations, test new materials and design cost effective balance of plant (BOP).
Cleaning process for coal-derived syngas to be used as SOFC fuel and testing of single and multiple cells on syngas. SOFC technology, which is the most promising for smaller, modular-scale and large-scale power generation, has a potential to enable coal-based power plants with efficiencies above 50% HHV with CCS. Such technology is called an integrated gasification solid oxide fuel cells (IGSOFC), which produces electricity from the syngas stream produced in a coal gasifier.
Coal itself contains a variety of contaminants and the syngas produced through a coal gasification process has some of these contaminants either as a vapor or in the form of fine particulate matter (PM). The contaminants have high potential to reduce SOFC performance and durability limiting IGSOFC system to move to commercialization. To control IGSOFC system cost effectively, coal-derived syngas cleanup process for the removal of the contaminants is required to de developed. The contaminants contents in the syngas must be reduced to a level that the SOFC system degradation rates are acceptable without raising system cost to a prohibitive level.