Phillips 66 has received a $3-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance the development of high-performance reversible solid oxide fuel cells (RSOFC). (Earlier post.) Phillips 66 will collaborate with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of a low-cost and highly efficient RSOFC system for hydrogen and electricity generation.
SOFCs are ceramic devices that generate electricity efficiently, with low emissions and at a competitive cost by oxidizing a fuel, such as hydrogen or natural gas, through electrochemical reactions rather than combustion. They have a lower carbon footprint compared with conventional power plants and are an ideal technology for the capture of carbon dioxide.
Reversible SOFCs allow for the fuel cells to operate in either power generation mode, as a solid oxide fuel cell, or reverse mode, as a solid oxide electrolysis cell. In the latter, electricity is applied to the cells to produce hydrogen, a low-emission fuel, through electrolysis.
The highly efficient reversible solid oxide cell system is based on proton conductors for hydrogen and electricity generation. The unique advantages of this system over those based on an oxygen-ion conductor include: (1) producing pure/dry hydrogen without the need for downstream separation/purification; (2) enhancing the durability of the fuel electrode, since the risk of Ni oxidation by steam is eliminated; and (3) making the conductivities of the proton-conducting membranes much higher than those of zirconia-based electrolytes. That implies much smaller ohmic loss and higher efficiency.
Phillips 66 says it has made significant technical progress in the area of solid oxide fuel cells and holds eight US granted patents and 22 pending US patent applications in its SOFC intellectual property portfolio.
The grant was awarded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. Phillips 66 will be the research lead on the grant, with Georgia Tech as a collaborative partner. The project was one of 12 announced in September 2020 under the US DOE’s DE-FOA-0002300, Small-Scale Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Systems and Hybrid Electrolyzer Technology Development (earlier post). The initial DOE funding was $2 million.