DOE boosts spending on fuel cell research


By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, Aug. 13, 2001 – In a bid to mass produce fuel cells, the US Department of Energy selected four teams to begin developing ultralow cost fuel cell technology.

The goal of the $500 million, 10-year effort is to produce fuel cells that cost one-tenth of currently marketed systems and one-third the cost of the more advanced concepts now beginning to reach commercial readiness. At $400/kw or less, cheaper future fuel cells could find widespread market acceptance well beyond the niche applications of today’s systems, the Energy Department said.

Sec. of Energy Spencer Abraham said DOE selected proposals from Honeywell Inc., Torrance, Calif.; Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp., Pittsburgh, Penn.; the team of Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., Troy, Mich., and Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio; and the team of Cummins Power Generation, Minneapolis, Minn., a unit of Cummins Inc.; and McDermott Technology Inc., Alliance, Ohio, as the winners of the competition.

Fuel cells are being installed commercially today, but high costs have limited their use to customers who need premium, highly reliable on site power. Because fuel cells don’t rely on combustion and operate much more efficiently than traditional power plants, they release 25-50% less heat-trapping carbon dioxide than today’s gas or coal-fired power generators.

Abraham said clean power systems will strengthen reliability while reducing pollutants. “The final hurdle is cost, Abraham said, and with the technology being announcing, “we intend to overcome that hurdle.”

Most fuel cells are custom manufactured and assembled individually and use various types of liquid acids or molten salts inside the fuel cell to generate electricity. The Energy Department said it believes developing a solid state fuel cell building block that can be mass produced could dramatically lower costs much like advances in solid state technology cut computer costs.

Each project will be divided into three phases. In the first 4-year phase, the teams will aim toward a goal of $800/kw; in the next two phases, each lasting 3 years, the teams hope to trim costs to $600/kw, and $400/kw or less, respectively.

At each stage, fuel-to-energy efficiencies will also be enhanced, ultimately reaching 60-70%, more than twice as efficient as most existing fossil fuel power plants. If all projects proceed as planned, the department will provide about $271 million during the next 10 years, with the project teams financing $226 million.

Exact cost-sharing and other terms will be negotiated over the next several weeks, DOE said. Details of each project follow:

– Honeywell will design, develop, and demonstrate a modular, 3-10 kw solid oxide fuel cell system. The self-contained prototype will be able to operate on a variety of fuels and will be designed as a stand-alone power plant tailored for a specific market, or integrated into a larger system. The Energy Department will provide $74 million for the 10-year project with Honeywell contributing $59 million.

– Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. plans to develop a 7-10 kw solid oxide combined heat and power system for residential applications, and a 3-10 kw auxiliary power unit for automotive applications. The Energy Department will provide $47.8 million while Siemens Westinghouse and its team will provide $32.8 million.

– Delphi Automotive Systems and Battelle will develop and test a solid oxide design that can be mass produced for automotive and truck auxiliary power units, distributed power generation, and military markets. The Energy Department will provide $74.6 million while Delphi and its partners will contribute $60.9 million.

– Cummins Power Generation and McDermott Technology will pursue stationary and mobile markets by producing and testing a modular, high reliability 10 kw system that emits virtually no pollutants. It will be designed to compete with and possibly replace current reciprocating engines of the same size. The Energy Department will contribute $74.2 million, while the Cummins/McDermott team will provide $91.5 million.

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