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:
SAFCell is developing solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) that operate at 250 °C and will be nearly free of precious metal catalysts. Current fuel cells either rely on ultra-pure hydrogen as a fuel and operate at low temperatures for vehicles technologies, or run on natural gas, but operate only at high temperatures for grid-scale applications. SAFCell’s fuel cell is utilizing a new solid acid electrolyte material to operate efficiently at intermediate temperatures and on multiple fuels. Additionally, the team will dramatically lower system costs by reducing precious metals, such as platinum, from the electrodes and developing new catalysts based on carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. The proposed SAFC stack design will lead to the creation of low cost fuel cells that can withstand common fuel impurities, making them ideal for distributed generation applications.
If successful, SAFCell ‘s solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) will be low cost, durable, and powered by natural gas which are ideal for distributed generation 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.