EPRI, GRI Team On Planar SOFCs

March 03, 1999 by Jeff Shepard

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI, Palo Alto, CA) and the Gas Research Institute (GRI, Chicago) announced the formation of a consortium to commercialize advanced planar solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for decentralized power systems. The University of Utah and Materials and Systems Research Inc. (MSRI, Salt Lake City) are also consortium members. MSRI has been awarded a $3 million grant by the National Institute of Standards & Technology/Advanced Technology Program to develop the SOFC technology.According to EPRI, the consortium will pool the intellectual property developed by the participants and plans to introduce a pre-commercial demonstration unit within three to four years. The consortium will also seek manufacturing and end-user partners to help commercialize the technology.EPRI noted that a thin-electrolyte design supported by a thick electrode enables SOFCs to operate reliably at 600-800 degrees C. Low-cost, metallic materials are used for cell interconnects. Extremely high, state-of-the-art power densities, over 2W per square centimeter, have been achieved in single cells at 800 degrees C. EPRI and GRI point to the importance of high power density in reducing the cost of fuel cell technology and acknowledge that a commercial product is still several years away. The planar SOFCs developed by the University of Utah and MSRI can be manufactured at much lower cost than current technology, according to institute spokespeople. The consortium believes the technology can achieve a total system cost of less than $700/kW, even in small production volumes and small-size units. The solid-state devices have fuel-to-electricity conversion efficiencies of 47-65 percent. Because they operate at high temperatures, they have less difficulty using natural gas fuel directly, eliminating the need for costly fuel-processing systems. Applications for the fuel cells include residential furnaces and appliances and on-site energy power systems for commercial and small industrial markets.