The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected for funding 16 solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology research projects. Fuel cells are a modular, efficient, and virtually pollution-free power generation technology. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, NETL issued two funding opportunities announcements (FOAs) to support programs that enable the development and deployment of this energy technology.

The projects selected under the two FOAs will receive funding through NETL’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Program. The FOAs were awarded with two primary objectives: to design, construct, and field-test a SOFC prototype system and to support innovations that improve the reliability, robustness, and endurance of SOFC cell and stack technology.

One project was awarded funding for a 400 kWe SOFC Prototype System Test. The project will field test a natural gas fueled SOFC Power System which is expected to enable the commercial deployment of natural-gas Distributed Generation SOFC systems by 2020.

The other fifteen projects were awarded funding under two topic areas: Innovative Concepts, geared towards undercutting current SOFC technology costs, and SOFC Core Technology, aimed at laboratory- and bench-scale projects that improve SOFC design. These projects will serve a critical role in moving SOFC technology closer to commercial deployment, with some of the small-scale demonstration projects illustrating the potential of SOFC technology to transfer to industry applications within the next 5 to 10 years.

Project descriptions follow.

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes for MW-scale SOFC Power Systems for Improved Stack Reliability, Durability, and Cost

LG Fuel Cell Systems, Inc. (LGFCS) (North Canton, OH) will qualify a material and process solution for selected metallic components of an advanced integrated stack block. This entry-into-service product will significantly reduce component cost and increase the reliability and endurance of LGFCS cell and stack technology. The project team expects this research to result in an optimized materials and processing solution that will significantly reduce component costs for a critical SOFC subsystem.

Cost: DOE: $2,500,000/Non DOE: $625,149/Total Funding: $3,125,149 (20% cost share)

Developing Accelerated Test Protocols and Tuning Microstructures of the Common Materials to Improve Robustness, Reliability, and Endurance of SOFC Cells

The University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC) will develop accelerated test protocols to establish common approaches for determining and projecting the durability of SOFC cathodes under simulated operation conditions. Cathodes are critical to improving SOFC performance, and this project will provide a research and development platform upon which to design durable, reproducible, and active cathodes.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $91,152/Total Funding: $291,152 (31% cost share)

Development of Low-Cost, Highly-Sinterable, Co-Free Spinel-Based Contact Materials for SOFC Cathode-Side Contact Application

The Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville, TN) will develop and demonstrate a cobalt-free nickel iron oxide spinel – a type of hard mineral – for SOFC cathode-side contact application. This spinel contact structure is expected to provide superior performance compared to the current contact materials due to good electrical conductivity and chemical compatibility to the different components. The new spinel-based structure between the cathode and interconnect developed by this project will also help improve the reliability and endurance of SOFC stacks.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $60,533/Total Funding: $260,533(23% cost share)

Development of a Thermal Spray, Redox Stable, Ceramic Anode for Metal Supported SOFC

GE Global Research (Niskayuna, NY) and its partners will develop a thermal-spray, redox stable, ceramic anode that will enable robust, large scale, metal-supported SOFCs. The project team will tailor the thermal spray process and engineer the powder microstructure to produce high performing SOFC. The project will culminate in the assembly of a 5 kilowatt stack that will be tested for at least 1000 hours using natural gas or simulated natural gas fuel.

Cost: DOE: $2,481,141/Non DOE: $827,047/Total Funding: $3,308,188 (25% cost share)

Enhancing High Temperature Anode Performance with 2° Anchoring Phases

Montana State University (Bozeman, MT) will develop, characterize, and refine electrode preparation methods for SOFCs to mechanically strengthen the anode support structure and facilitate the binding of metal catalysts to ion-conducting ceramic scaffolds. The project aims to develop methods of fabricating SOFC anodes having high catalytic activity and unprecedented mechanical and thermal stability resulting in an anode structure that has both high performance and is cost effective.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $50,000/Total Funding: $250,000 (20% cost share)

High Power, Low-Cost SOFC Stacks for Robust and Reliable Distributed Generation

Redox Power Systems, LLC (Redox) (College Park, MD) will head a partnership to improve the performance and reduce the stack costs of Redox’s high power density, natural gas fueled, SOFCs. The project specifically emphasizes the systematic investigation of SOFC degradation mechanisms for the Redox technology from the cells to the stack, as well as the development of relevant solutions. The project team will also demonstrate a 20 % reduction in the current DOE cost target through a detailed cost analysis based on Redox’s cell technology and its proven manufacturing processes.

Cost: DOE: $2,500,000/Non DOE: $625,000/Total Funding: $3,125,000 (20% cost share)

Innovative SOFC Technologies

FuelCell Energy, Inc. (Danbury, CT) and its subsidiary will collaborate to develop a low-cost method for manufacturing the anode support layer for SOFCs. The team will investigate advanced manufacturing of the cell components and explore a technique to reduce the thickness of the barrier layer and decrease imperfections. Additionally, the team will develop an innovative stack technology for better thermal management, material reduction, better packaging within stack modules, and ease of installation. This project will increase the reliability, robustness, and endurance of low-cost SOFC technology.

Cost: DOE: $2,500,000/Non DOE: $625,000/Total Funding: $3,125,000 (20% cost share)

Innovative Versatile and Cost-Effective Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack Concept

The University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA) will conduct a three-year project to evaluate and demonstrate an innovative, versatile, and cost-competitive SOFC stack concept suitable for a broad range of power generation applications. Researchers will evaluate and select appropriate materials, designs, and fabrication processes to produce metal-supported interconnects with the desired microstructure and operating characteristics. The results of this study will form the basis for further work to develop commercially viable SOFC technology for entry into the commercial marketplace.

Cost: DOE: $2,500,000/Non DOE: $625,000/Total Funding: $3,125,000 (20% cost share)

In-Operando Evaluation of SOFC Cathodes for Enhanced Oxygen Reduction Reaction Activity and Durability

The University of Maryland (College Park, MD) will investigate cathode composition and structure under applied voltage/current using real ambient gas contaminants to determine their effects on SOFC cathode oxygen reduction reactions. Successful completion of this research will yield a fundamental understanding of cathode oxygen reduction mechanisms over a broad range of cathode materials.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $49,996/Total Funding: $249,996 (20% cost share)

Low-Cost, Durable, Contaminant-Tolerant Cathodes

Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) and an industry partner will collaborate to develop innovative, robust and durable cathode materials and structures with high tolerance to common contaminants encountered under realistic operating conditions. The team will use model cells with carefully designed electrodes to probe and map contaminants on different sites of electrode surfaces in order to correlate the electrochemical performance with the structure and composition evolution of the cathodes over time.  Using a combination of experimental and computational approaches this research will demonstrate an effective way to accelerate the design of robust, lower-cost SOFC cathode materials.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $50,000/Total Funding: $250,000 (20% cost share)

LSCF-CDZ Composite Cathodes for Improved SOFC Electrical Performance

Kettering University (Flint, MI) will improve SOFC cathodes by fabricating and evaluating novel composite materials to enhance the performance, reliability, robustness, and endurance of commercial SOFC systems. The team will then characterize and electrically test composite cathodes to quantify the improvements in SOFC electrical performance. Research on composite cathode technology will improve cell reliability, reduce costs, and expedite the commercialization of SOFC systems.

Cost: DOE: $160,343/Non DOE: $38,445/Total Funding: $198,788 (19% cost share)

Matrix Analysis of Aged SOFCs: Performance and Materials Degradation

Acumentrics (Westwood, MA) and a collaborator are partnering on a project to support an SOFC industry goal to rate fuel cells at constant operational performance for more than 40,000 hours. A problem facing developers is the lack of an accepted method to accelerate SOFC degradation in the laboratory in order to accurately predict long-term degradation in the field. This project will provide valuable insights into improving material selection and designs for the next generation of SOFC stacks.

Cost: DOE: $199,545/Non DOE: $49,886/Total Funding: $249,431 (20% cost share)

Processing of SOFC Anodes for Enhanced Intermediate Temperature Catalytic Activity at High Fuel Utilization

Boston University (Boston, MA) will design SOFC anodes that are functional at intermediate temperatures and maintain high power densities at high fuel utilizations. By depositing nano-sized nickel catalyst particles through infiltration into porous scaffolds, this project will produce fuel cells with optimized anode microstructures. The resulting SOFC cells will demonstrate a 50 % improvement in performance at intermediate temperatures and high fuel utilization rates when compared conventionally processed cell anodes.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $50,000/Total Funding: $250,000 (20% cost share)

Scalable Nano-Scaffold Architecture on the Internal Surface of SOFC Anode for Direct Hydrocarbon Utilization

West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV) will use an atomic layer deposition (ALD) coating and thermal treatment process on commercial SOFCs to tailor the nanostructure on anode surfaces. Optimizing the design of the surface nanostructure could produce a 50 % greater power density for commercial SOFC, as well as increase long-term cell durability. ALD technology represents a cost-effective and scalable process for anode production.

Cost: DOE: $199,999/Non DOE: $53,467/Total Funding: $253,465 (21% cost share)

Self-Regulating Surface Chemistry for More Robust Highly Durable Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Cathodes

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) will develop SOFC electrodes that are tolerant to two of the most prevalent cathode electrode impurities: chromium and silicon. Most commonly used high-performance cathode materials deactivate due to impurities. In an effort to minimize the cost and complexity of cathodes, this research will focus on creating self-cleaning electrode materials that trap impurities before they block the electrodes active sites. Identifying means for overcoming the detrimental impact of impurities on surface reaction kinetics will improve performance and extend SOFC operating life.

Cost: DOE: $200,000/Non DOE: $56,153/Total Funding: $256,153 (22% cost share)

Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Prototype System Test

FuelCell Energy, Inc. (Danbury, CT) and its subsidiary will design, fabricate, and test a state-of-the-art 400 kilowatt thermally self-sustaining atmospheric-pressure SOFC prototype system. The 400 kilowatt SOFC prototype system represents an important advancement in SOFC technology development and demonstration toward the ultimate goal of deploying SOFCs in highly efficient coal-based central generation systems with carbon capture. Successful achievement of the project goals is expected to enable the commercial deployment of natural gas-fueled Distributed Generation SOFC systems, which is an intermediate step toward viable SOFC technology for large-scale, coal-fueled, central power generation applications.

Cost: DOE: $6,000,000/Non DOE: $4,917,887/Total Funding: $10,917,887 (45% cost share)