Solid oxide fuel cell shows large-scale potential

Finnish researchers have built a working solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system that produces grid electricity, an important step in developing a multi-megawatt commercial power plant.

It is the first time a 10kW power class planar SOFC fuel stack has operated as part of a complete fuel-cell system, according to research scientist Matias Halinen from the VTT Technical Research Centre.

‘What we are doing is trying to measure the endurance and reliability of the stack and the balance of components in the system, such as the blowers, burners and valves,’ he said. ‘Because there is no mass market of fuel-cell system components… we need to somehow establish the reliability and endurance of the components.’

Tekes, the Finnish funding agency for technology and innovation, is part funding the project as part of the Tekes Fuel Cell Programme.

Since the beginning of November last year, the current prototype system has completed more than 1,500 hours of reliable and continuous operation. The electricity produced equates to the average annual consumption of five apartments in an apartment block.

SOFC technology is an extremely low-emission energy source and can utilise a wide range of different fuels, including biogas, which is normally difficult to exploit efficiently using other technologies.

‘The biogas applications could provide a niche market that could enable commercialisation and demonstration of large-scale power plants,’ Halinen said.

In collaboration with VTT, Lappeenranta University of Technology worked on the system’s power electronics, which enabled direct current produced by the SOFC system to be transformed into alternating current suitable for the grid.

Commenting on the future direction of the project, Halinen said: ‘It’s a prototype system; we have some un-optimised components and solutions, so by decreasing losses in the current collection and improving the power conversion we can achieve an efficiency of 50 per cent or higher.’