Fuel Cell Tailored for Efficient Utilization of Methane
Centralized power generation systems offer excellent economy of scale but often require long transmission distances between supply and distribution points, leading to efficiency losses throughout the grid. Additionally, it can be challenging to integrate energy from renewable energy sources into centralized systems. Fuel cells—or devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel source into electrical energy—are optimal for distributed power generation systems, which generate power close to where it is used. Distributed generation systems offer an alternative to the large, centralized power generation facilities or power plants that are currently commonplace. There is also a need for small, modular technologies that convert natural gas to liquid fuels and other products for easier transport. Such processes are currently limited to very large installations with high capital expenses. Today’s fuel cell research generally focuses on technologies that either operate at high temperatures for grid-scale applications or at low temperatures for vehicle technologies. There is a critical need for intermediate-temperature fuel cells that offer low-cost, distributed generation both at the system and device levels.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Georgia Tech Research Corporation is developing a fuel cell that operates at temperatures less than 500°C by integrating nanostructured materials into all cell components. This is a departure from traditional fuel cells that operate at much lower or much higher temperatures. By developing multifunctional anodes that can efficiently reform and directly process methane, this fuel cell will allow for efficient use of methane. Additionally, the Georgia Tech team will develop nanocomposite electrolytes to reduce cell temperature without sacrificing system performance. These technological advances will enable an efficient, intermediate-temperature fuel cell for distributed generation applications.
If successful, Georgia Tech’s fuel cell will increase the commercial viability of fuel cell technologies for a wide range of emerging applications.
Enabling more efficient use of natural gas for power generation provides a reliable alternative to other fuel sources—a broader fuel portfolio means more energy security.
Natural gas produces roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to existing sources of power generation.
Distributed generation technologies would reduce costs associated with power losses compared to centralized power stations and provide lower operating costs due to peak shaving.