Mines wins five-year program to advance proton-conducting ceramic fuel cells, stacks and systems

Colorado School of Mines received a Phase II award to develop next-generation, high-efficiency fuel cells for distributed electricity generation. Entitled “Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cells for Distributed-Generation Applications: Advanced Proton-Conducting Ceramic Fuel Cells and Stacks,” the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (DOE ARPA-E) as part of the REBELS program (Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems). The three-year Phase II award builds on the successful scale up of protonic-conducting ceramic fuel cells conducted in the two-year Phase I award.

Technological road map for REBELS-supported protonic-ceramic fuel cells
Technological road map for REBELS-supported protonic-ceramic fuel cells

Professor Ryan O’Hayre of Mines’ Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department serves as Primary Investigator on the program. Co-PIs include Professor Robert J. Kee and Associate Professors Robert Braun and Neal Sullivan of the Mechanical Engineering Department. Effort is distributed across two of Mines’ leading research centers: the Colorado Fuel Cell Center (CFCC) and the Colorado Center for Advanced Ceramics (CCAC). The program will run through 2020.

The program objective is to leverage Mines’ industrial partnership with FuelCell Energy (FCE, Danbury, CT) to advance our breakthrough proton-conducting ceramic fuel cell technology from laboratory-scale to pre-commercial stacks. In our REBELS Phase I program, Mines researchers successfully scaled protonic-ceramic devices with record-breaking performance from small “button” fuel cells to laboratory-scale stacks. Our team has exceeded all REBELS program milestones ahead of schedule. Outstanding stack performance has been demonstrated under methane fuel at low temperature (500–550 ºC). Stable operation has been established under commercially relevant hydrocarbon fuels, with no upstream fuel processing. We estimate stack production economics that compare favorably to SOFC technology, with ~30% lower unit costs at the 10 kW scale. Such low-cost, low-temperature, fuel-flexible performance presents a transformative value proposition for distributed electricity generation.

Through this follow-on program, this encouraging seedling progress will be advanced to the level of commercially relevant stacks. The technology will transition from the university to the industrial developer to demonstrate a fuel-cell stack that has five times more capacity than the FOA target. The end-of-project deliverable will be a protonic-ceramic fuel-cell stack with the following performance attributes:

  • Minimum power of 500 W at target conditions of 0.75 V cell potential and 550 ºC temperature;
  • Minimum power density of 0.25 W/cm2 at target conditions;
  • Target performance demonstrated under natural gas, propane and methanol fuels;
  • Minimum 1000 hours of continuous operation on down-selected target fuel;
  • Degradation below 3% per 1000 hours under down-selected target fuel.

Techno-economic analyses will be used to delineate performance, system and cost tradeoffs. System configurations will draw from TEA results to identify the broadest market space that can be realized. FCE’s global reach will position protonic-ceramic fuel cell technology for rapid and diverse market entry.

This effort is supported by Award Number DE-AR0000493. The program runs from 2015 through 2020.

Read more about the ARPA-E REBELS program here: https://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-programs/rebels