NASA and DOE lab team on fuel cell research

The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NASA have signed an agreement to jointly develop sealing technologies for solid oxide fuel cells.

The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NASA’s Glenn Research Center have agreed to collaborate in solving one of the toughest technical challenges to the development of advanced solid oxide fuel cells.

The two research organisations have signed a Space Act Agreement to team in the development of sealing technologies for the stacks of solid oxide fuel cells.

Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stacks consist of a group of thin ceramic cells separated by gas seals between which electricity is generated through a combustion-free electrochemical process.

PNNL Fuel Cell Development Director Prabhakar Singh explained, ‘The gas separation seals used between the individual cells prevent fuels and oxidants from intermixing. Robust seal materials and engineered architectures are essential to ensure the long term stable operation of SOFCs.’

‘Our objective is to develop composite materials and designs that will improve the strength and fracture toughness of composite glass and glass-ceramic-based seals,’ said Ajay Misra, chief of NASA Glenn’s Ceramics Branch. ‘The seals must stand up to the extremes of pressure, temperature and other environmental conditions that occur during extended operation.’

‘The arrangement complements PNNL’s work in glass seals and NASA’s expertise in glass and glass-ceramic composites,’ Singh said. ‘While each organisation will continue to maintain its own research program, participants will jointly identify, prioritise, develop and test new fuel cell seal technologies.’

The global market for SOFCs is currently estimated at $123 million, of which, the North American market is estimated to be around $67 million. This reflects an increase in SOFC funding, the number of units evaluated, R&D contracts and sales of about 21% compared to 2002.

The global market is forecast to reach $335 million by 2008 with an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 22.2% through the forecast period.