Redox Power Unveils Cube Fuel Cell for Production in 2014

August 18, 2013 by Jeff Shepard

University of Maryland researchers have partnered with Redox Power Systems LLC to deliver breakthrough fuel cell technologies for providing always-on electricity to businesses, homes and eventually automobiles, at about one-tenth the cost and one-tenth the size of current commercial fuel cell systems. The initial model of “The Cube” was unveiled over the weekend. The first-generation Cube runs off natural gas, but it can generate power from a variety of fuel sources, including propane, gasoline, biofuel and hydrogen. The system is a highly-efficient, clean technology, emitting negligible pollutants and much less carbon dioxide than conventional energy sources. It uses fuel far more efficiently than an internal combustion engine, and can have an efficiency up to 80% when used to provide both heat and power.

Redox plans to release The Cube to production in 2014. The first version will be configured to 25kW, which can comfortably power a gas station, moderately-sized grocery store or small shopping plaza. Additional power offerings will follow. Using different-sized fuel cell stacks, the company can offer The Cube at 5kW, to provide always-on electricity for an average American home, or up to 80kW in one system.

"Every business or home should be able to safely generate its own energy," said Warren Citrin, CEO and director of Redox. "We currently rely upon a vulnerable electrical grid. The best way to decrease that vulnerability is through distributed energy, that is, by making your own energy on-site. We are building systems to do that, with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability. These should be common appliances."

The PowerSERG 2-80, also called "The Cube," connects to a natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. Just larger than a dishwasher, the system sits comfortably in a basement, outside of a building, or on a roof, and—with no engine and virtually no moving parts—quietly goes about its business of providing power.

The initial breakthrough in the PowerSERG is in the fuel cells, which professor Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC), over a 25-year period, has improved to produce significantly more power at a lower temperature. More power means fewer cells to do the work of larger power generation systems, enabling the devices to be much smaller. Also, lower operating temperatures allow for the use of conventional materials in The Cube, driving costs down exponentially.

Conventional solid oxide fuel cells operate as high as 950 degrees Celsius to run effectively. At this high temperature, the system can't be easily turned on and off, performance degrades, and the balance of the system requires expensive, high-temperature alloys that drive up prices. Wachsman decreased the operating temperature of solid oxide fuel cells to 650 degrees Celsius, with future reductions likely to 300 degrees. At these lower temperatures, the system can turn on much more rapidly, operate with greater reliability, allowing The Cube to be built with conventional stainless steel parts rather than expensive alloys.