Fuel Cell Enabling Technologies, Inc. (FCET), a start-up energy technology company that has developed a novel, low-cost solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system, announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NextGenPropulsion, LLC (NGP) indicating NGP’s intent to purchase FCET fuel cells for NGP light-rail trains and freight locomotives. In addition to fuel cell orders, this would mean engineering collaboration between the two firms.
The core of FCET’s technology is a highly conductive electrolyte film that allows its SOFCs to operate at very low temperatures, thereby significantly reducing the total system cost, among other benefits.
Locomotives have for some time been considered a prime target for new and renewable propulsion technology, but this collaboration may result in the first rail application of a fuel cell in the United States. NGP chose FCET’s fuel cell due in large part to its low-cost, high-efficiency design, making it suited for installation in both light-rail and freight locomotive applications.
Members of the NGP team have previously partnered with the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick, both in the United Kingdom, where prototype hydrogen-powered trains have been operating for years. FCET’s SOFC would be an improvement over existing PEM designs due to advantages in efficiency and power density. Previously, however, SOFC type cells were considered too complex and too expensive for such applications.
FCET’s low temperature and low cost offer the best of both worlds for NGP: a high-efficiency cell at a price point that will make the commercialization of hydrogen-powered rail not only a possibility, but an obvious replacement for current, century-old technology.—Dr. Keith Baarson, one of NGP’s founders and chief engineers