610 Fuel Cell Systems Costs

The cost of fuel cell systems has been dramatically reduced since their first use in space applications. Estimates of the installed cost of fuel cell systems applied to the Apollo and Gemini missions range in the millions of dollars per kilowatt of capacity ($/kW). Since the first demonstration of fuel cells for distributed power generation, the installed cost of fuel cell systems has been dramatically reduced from the order of $1 million/kW to the current price of about $4000/kW.

The high cost of fuel cell systems is due to several factors. The first is the utilization of high-cost materials in the construction of fuel cell systems (e.g., noble metal catalyst materials). The amount of high-cost materials required for effective operation has been dramatically reduced in recent years. This is particularly true for proton exchange membrane fuel cell performance, which has been increased with a reduction in platinum catalyst loading. The second factor is complicated designs with increased instrumentation and controls not optimized for ease of manufacturing, and the third is labor intensive manufacturing processes. The fourth and most important factor for continued high cost of fuel cell systems to date is the lack of volume production, which impacts not only fuel cell stack material cost, design, and manufacture, but also the cost of all system and balance-of-plant items.

One of the best sources of information on fuel cell costs is available through the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Fuel Cell Program, which has installed more than 30 ONSI PC-25TM 200 kW fuel cells and is providing publicly available feedback and information regarding their installation and performance. This information is readily available at www.dodfuelcell.com (DoD Fuel Cell Program Web site, 1999). This fleet of PAFC units is managed by the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) for the Defense Utilities Coordinating Council on behalf of all branches of the military. Information provided at this site includes not only cost information, but also information on reliability, availability, efficiency, installation requirements, and more.

Data from the DoD Fuel Cell Program indicate that the complete installed cost of commercially available fuel cells today is approximately $1.1 million for an ONSI PC-25TM PAFC unit. At a rated output of 200 kW, this corresponds to $5412/kW installed (DoD Fuel Cell Program Web site, 1999). All of these installations qualified for the DoD Fuel Cell Buy Down Program, managed by the Federal Energy Technology Center (FETC Web site, 1999), which reduced the cost of the installed fuel cells to approximately $4400/kW. Note that these prices reflect purchases over the last seven years.

All fuel cell manufacturers require some savings due to volume manufacturing to reach the target prices for distributed power generation systems which are in the range of $800 to $1000/kW. At this price for installed cost, the increased efficiency of fuel cell systems compared to other distributed generation technologies can make them strictly cost competitive. With the additional reductions in pollutant emissions that fuel cell systems can provide, fuels cells portend a tremendously competitive distributed generation technology. Reaching the target price identified above with reliable fuel cell systems is the primary challenge facing the fuel cell community.

Solar Stirling Engine Basics Explained

Solar Stirling Engine Basics Explained

The solar Stirling engine is progressively becoming a viable alternative to solar panels for its higher efficiency. Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun. This is an easy-to-understand explanation of how Stirling engines work, the different types, and why they are more efficient than steam engines.

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