A Natural-gas based High Efficiency Combined Thermo-chemical Affordable Reactor (NECTAR)

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Oak Ridge,
Project Term:
06/19/2018 - 06/19/2021

Critical Need:

In 2015, two-thirds of U.S. electricity was derived from fossil fuels. This electricity was then distributed through the electrical grid, ultimately netting a delivered efficiency of 34%. Ultra-high electrical efficiency (>70%) distributed generation systems, such as those that combine fuel cells and engines, can lower the cost and environmental burdens of providing this electricity. These hybrid systems convert natural gas or renewable fuels into electricity at substantially higher efficiencies and lower emissions than traditional systems. At the component and system levels, however, these hybrid technologies face challenges including the low-loss integration of fuel cells with engine-based waste recovery cycles, capital cost, and fuel cell stack durability.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will develop next generation heat exchangers for use in hybrid power generation systems. Proper and efficient heat transfer is at the heart of a hybrid system that allows each sub-component to operate most efficiently and at its optimal conditions. Integrated hybrid systems require heat exchangers that can accommodate both high temperatures as well as elevated pressures. The key challenge of this project is to develop materials that are compatible with the application, meet the demanding physical and structural requirements, and harness additive manufacturing processes. ORNL's solution is to develop a ceramic/steel alloy heat exchanger using advanced modeling to optimize the heat transfer surface and fabricated using advanced 3D printing technology. These manufacturing improvements can also expand the design flexibility of full hybrid systems by allowing the heat exchangers to better conform to unconventional and complex geometries or challenging form factor requirements that cannot be met by conventionally manufactured units. If successful, the project will result in topology-optimized, high-temperature heat exchangers with a 200% higher overall heat transfer rate compared to the state of the art and at dramatically lower cost.

Potential Impact:

The INTEGRATE program is developing a new class of distributed and ultra-efficient (>70%) fuel to electric power conversion systems for commercial and industrial customers.


Distributed electrical generation systems can produce highly reliable electric power supplies.


High electric efficiency and decreased reliance on combustion would result in lower greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.


These systems’ high efficiency and avoidance of electric grid transmission and distribution costs offer the potential for lower cost electric power.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Tew
Project Contact:
Dr. Kashif Nawaz
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of South Carolina

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