The U.S. Department of Energy is allocating $32 million to advance Megawatt class scale Solid Oxide Fuel Cells that are able to use a wide range of fuel feedstocks (e.g. hydrogen, natural gas) for power generation.

According to the press release on how a majority of funds will be used:

… projects will have two phases with a competitive down-select between Phase I and Phase II. The Phase II project will culminate in the construction and testing of a MWe-class SOFC system that meets the cost target of $6,000/kilowatt-electric and degradation target of 0.5 percent/1,000 hours. These systems will be field tested for a minimum of 5,000 hours.

Fuel Cells for Reliable MW Scale Distributed Power 
Though it was not explicitly stated in the announcement, there are two issues connected with a desire to evolve SOFC systems.

The first issue relates to a latent need to use our hydrocarbon resources more efficiently.  Rather than combust natural gas or coal in centralized power plants, fuel cells provide a more efficient electrochemical conversion process with lower emissions. SOFCs have a greater tolerance for hydrocarbon fuels and can be designed for higher temperature operation which leads to improved efficiency.

The second issue relates to longer term investments in new power generation as utilities struggle with both flat demand growth and greater policy pressure to integrate renewables and distributed power systems. If utilities pull back from spending on large centralized power plants, we could see more investments in distributed power generation. Fuel cells provide reliable, ‘dispatchable’ energy in a small footprint that can be located closer to customers. MWe-class SOFCs are an ideal solution for distributed power and micro-CHP (combined heat and power).


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