ARCHIVED - NRC Builds the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell of 2010... Today

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May 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

The solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) is one of the more efficient technological solutions to pollution arising from the world's fossil fuel addiction. Working somewhat like a battery, this type of fuel cell doesn't cause air or noise pollution and emits only water, heat and, most importantly, electricity.

To develop this promising technology, NRC fuel cell experts teamed up with leading fuel cell research and development organizations worldwide in the 6th Framework Project (FP6) of the European Commission. The NRC team's fuel cell prototype has been ranked number one among the partners and already exceeds the Project's goals set for 2010.

"The project's name is 'Demonstration of SOFC stack technology for operation at 600°C' or SOFC600," said Dr. Radenka Maric, Group Leader of the High Temperature Fuel Cells group at the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI). "NRC has been invited to join the consortium because of our activities focusing on low-temperature SOFC development, which the partners consider to be of high value to the Consortium." Asked to be one of only two non-European agencies, NRC joins international leaders in fuel cell development.

A solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)
A solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)

The ultimate goal is to create economically viable solid oxide fuel cells to deliver efficient, non-polluting energy. This goal has been broken down into smaller steps to be tackled by the SOFC600 team members. "The Consortium's goal is to have a 1 Kilowatt SOFC working at 600°C after four years," added Dr. Maric.

Solid oxide fuel cells convert chemical to electrical energy much like a battery works. Unlike batteries, however, SOFCs don't run down since they use a continuous stream of fuel and therefore turn out a constant supply of electrical power.

"They are used for residential applications for power and heat generation," Dr. Maric said. "Now people buy generators for camping. In the future, instead of generators, people will buy fuel cells!"

Although SOFCs run on conventional hydrocarbon fuels, they break down these fuels completely to their molecular components to create electricity. Current power sources break down fossil fuels by combustion, which leads to air pollution including greenhouse gases and smog.

SOFC600 Partners

The SOFC600 Consortium consists of key stakeholders in Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) development including:

Country Organization
Austria University of Leoben (ULEOBEN)
Canada National Research Council Canada (NRC)
China Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (DICP)
Denmark Haldor Topsoe A/S (HTAS)
Denmark

Risoe National Laboratory (Risoe)

France

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique(CNRSBX)

France

Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA)

Germany Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH (FZJ)
Germany Unversität Karlsruhe (UKARL)
Netherlands Energy Research Centre of (ECN) - Project Coordinator
Spain

Nuevas Tecnologias Para La Distribucion Activa de la Energia (NTDA)

Switzerland HTceramix SA (HTc)
Switzerland Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA)
United Kingdom The Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (Imperial)
United Kingdom University Court of the University of St Andrews (USTAN)
United Kingdom University of Warwick (UWARWICK)

In addition to running cleaner, SOFCs are highly efficient. SOFCs can convert up to 70 percent of their input energy into electricity, whereas engines and thermal power plants are only 30 to 40 percent efficient. SOFCs are also attractive because they are quiet and, unlike other types of fuel cell, they can work with many different fuel sources. So why don't we all have a SOFC in the basement? There are a few technological hurdles to overcome, the main one being running temperature.

"SOFCs typically run at around 1000 degrees [Celsius], but the cells suffer from the high temperature and degrade faster," said Dr. Francois Girard, Business Development Officer at NRC-IFCI. "So the objective of this project is to produce high performance SOFCs that operate at 600°C."

The NRC team is developing two novel technologies to achieve this goal. First, for the cathode end of the fuel cell, the team is testing new materials that will work more efficiently at 600°C and cost less than current platinum-based electrodes. The other NRC innovation, called reactive spray deposition technology (RSDT), is a process to deposit extremely thin films of conductive materials onto the fuel cell substrate with a high degree of control.

"It's important to build thin layers because the resistance is lower," explained Dr. Girard. "Lower material resistance leads to better performance at low temperature as compared to conventional systems." Thinner films decrease the resistance that electrons experience as they flow through a fuel cell, improving efficiency and performance. Lowering the temperature of the reaction would allow manufacturers to use less expensive materials, which will enhance the chances of the SOFC becoming an economically feasible energy source.

Using these two technologies, the prototype SOFC operates at 600°C – a performance that already achieves the Consortium's goals for 2010. When tested by a third-party agency against other Consortium members' fuel cells, the NRC-IFCI device outperformed the rest. "It's always good to have an independent body do the testing and say 'You're the best!'" said Dr. Maric.

Although the SOFC600 project just started last spring, the NRC team is already attracting commercial interest. "We're expecting to work with licensees in the EU and also keep the technology to develop [it further] for Canadian needs," said Dr. Maric.

Besides its environmental bonuses, the project's benefits include enhanced international research networks and a higher profile for NRC in the international fuel cell community. "One important outcome of this project is our ability to generate new collaborations with other members and the exposure of our technology through the Consortium partners to the EU," added Dr. Girard. "Although this effort cost us approximately $400,000, the total value of the project is about $16 million. This allows us to leverage our investment by a factor of 40."

"This project represents an important link between Canada and the European Union for the research and development of this environmentally clean and efficient energy technology," said Dr. Maric. "SOFCs also bridge to the future energy supply, predominantly based on renewable energy."


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