The research team at the Colorado Fuel Cell Center recently generated 10 kW of carbon-free electricity with hydrogen-fueled solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). This power level is the highest ever demonstrated at the CFCC, and serves as a stepping-stone towards the 30-kW target prescribed in our Department of Energy “INTEGRATE” research and development program.

CFCC Director Neal Sullivan states, “Many academic research groups build and test single fuel cell and electrolyzer devices, as does the Colorado Fuel Cell Center. But few academic groups are bringing tens-of-kilowatts to their electric grid, as is found here in the CFCC. It’s quite inspiring to have this span of research – from materials discovery to system demonstrations – under a single roof.”

This power output was achieved using the four-stack solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) module produced in partnership with Ceres Power, Ltd. (Horsham, United Kingdom) shown in Figure 1 (below). 

Figure 1: Four-stack solid-oxide fuel cell module. The Multi-Stack Modules were tested in the 36-kW test bed shown in Figure 2 (below); this test bed features pressurization of the modules up to 10 barg; operating pressure for the 10-kW demonstration was 2 barg.

36-kW test bed

Operating the Multi-Stack Module at elevated pressure serves to boost power output, while also replicating conditions found in our planned 100-kW “hybrid” system. The hybrid includes three (3) Multi-Stack Modules operating upstream of a reciprocating engine. The engine is fueled by the low-quality exhaust gases produced by the fuel cells, boosting efficiency. Once assembled, the 100-kW hybrid system will produce the same power of today’s conventional 100-kW electric generators, but with twice the efficiency. This serves to cut fuel consumption and CO2 footprint to half of that produced in today’s state-of-the-art electric generators. The project is in collaboration with Kohler Power Systems and Colorado State University. Prof. Rob Braun (Mines Mechanical Engineering) serves as Principal Investigator.

While our 100-kW hybrid generator is designed for operation on conventional natural gas, the fuel flexibility of these solid-oxide fuel cells enables power generation under several carbon-free fuels, including hydrogen and ammonia (NH3).

The work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (DoE ARPA-E) under Award Number DE-AR0000954.