Hybrid Power System: High Efficiency Solid Oxide Fuel Cell and Internal Combustion Engine

Colorado State University Background
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are a scalable and efficient form of energy production, which minimize greenhouse gas emissions. SOFCs use a solid oxide electrolyte to oxidize gases by electrochemically conducting oxygen ions from a cathode to an anode. Generally, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, or a hydrocarbon molecule are oxidized on the anode side.
SOFCs do not require expensive catalyst materials. However, one drawback of SOFCs is that they require high temperatures to operate efficiently, sometimes at temperatures of 750° C. to 1000° C. High capital cost and poor durability have been significant barriers for solid oxide fuel cell technology to achieve widespread adoption in commercial distributed power generation applications. In part, these challenges have historically been associated with their high operating temperatures (750-1000° C.). While progress in cost reduction and durability has been made, even at high production volumes, relatively high balance-of-plant costs (-760 $/kW), and low lifetime average system efficiency (45-55%) still limit their value proposition and market potential. Additionally, high temperature SOFC technology has long suffered from low robustness/durability, poor dynamic response and high stack and balance-of-plant (BOP) costs.
Technology Overview
This hybrid power generator combines a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) with an internal combustion (IC) engine to produce energy at a 71% efficiency, an increase of about 20% when compared to other natural gas power production. The SOFC and IC are linked in the process such that power may be generated using the byproducts of one system to power the other. The thermal management of the system is conducted through internal fuel feedstock reform, and the system is able to achieve a lower balance of plant cost compared to current market options.
Benefits

Power is produced by natural gas at a higher efficiency, 71% efficiency compared to 45-55% efficiency is available in market competition
100-kW scale of electricity produced
Reduced fuel consumption
Greater efficiency of overall power generation leads to decreased cost
900 $/kW balance of plant cost, compared to -760 $/kW available in market competition
Lower supporting machinery cost
Lower operating temperature improves lifetime of the fuel cell

Applications

Grid electricity generation
Smaller units for localized energy generation

Opportunity
Available for License
Technology Readiness Level (TRL): 3

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