Technology Development

The major thrusts of the R&D program are to optimize component designs by reducing material content and improving fuel cell performance features such as power density and cell voltage to lower costs. The results will effect finalizing overall stack and system designs for the commercial unit. Over 11,000 hours of testing have been compiled on stacks constructed with components representative of the SCDP, another important milestone toward validation of the direct carbonate fuel cell technology.

This five-year ERC-DOE cost-shared program comprises the remaining elements to essentially complete the DFC R&D initiative to produce a market entry position. The government's role is to fund the research and development of the full-size fuel cell stack and stack test facilities, power plant system design, and system verification tests. The private sector has concentrated on funding prototype manufacturing facilities, process equipment and balance of plant equipment.

The key objectives of the current effort are to develop a full-size stack design, improve fuel cell performance, and improve the endurance of fuel cell components. An important goal toward completing stack design development involves cell area scaleup. Significant design progress has been achieved through scaling up the cell area by 33% to 91r, reducing cell weight by 40%, and lowering component manufacturing costs. Progress was also made in tackling fuel cell endurance with a four-fold improvement in cathode strength and verification of several previously developed cell matrix strengthening approaches.

Efforts are targeted to improve fuel cell component performance and reduce materials content to further lower costs. These advances will also enhance fuel cell power density, component life and stack reliability. Additionally, ERC has achieved over 80,000 hours of cumulative testing of the carbonate fuel cell while its licensees reached 40,000 hours of testing, exceeding by far the most hours tested by any other advanced fuel cell technology.

Fuels flexibility remains one of the most attractive market features of the fuel cell, offering operational alternatives for power plant managers when fuel prices fluctuate. In the coordinated DOD/DOE program, co-sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a capability to process diesel (DF-2) and jet (JP-8) logistics fuels for the DFC has been demonstrated. This capability, once proven, will allow military planners and energy systems designers to specify high efficiency, non-polluting fuel cell power plants for fixed military bases.

An East Coast demonstration power plant will be constructed at ERC's Danbury headquarters. It will be capable of supporting extensive testing of the prototypical commercial power plant as well as being adaptable for alternative fuels testing. This plant's design wilt incorporate improvements validated through the R&D effort, experience from the SCDP, and other findings. The unit and facility is expected to verify improved power plant performance, plant equipment cost reductions, and host field crew proficiency training courses for performing field operations- module handling and installation, plant start-up and acceptance operations, and O&M responses.

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