Stationary on-site power units based on solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology and with a generation capacity of around 100 kW will be commercially available in 7–10 years, according to Xin Li, a Technical Specialist with Cummins Power Generation. SOFC products for transport applications ready for market much sooner.
The company’s history with fuel cells dates back as far as the 1960s but was renewed in late 2001, when the company began an association with the US Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) programme. Cummins elected to focus its research and development on SOFC technology due to its potential to be cost effective while operating cleanly and efficiently on existing hydrocarbon fuels – as well as hydrogen as it becomes more widely available.
In 2007 Cummins Power Generation was one of six industry teams involved in the DOE SECA programme to successfully complete the Phase One tests of the first SOFC prototypes. ‘These units offered the potential to be manufactured at costs approaching to conventional stationary power-generation technology’, said Xin Li. The resulting SOFC power system (developed with Versa Power) has the potential to directly replace its diesel powered generator sets in many applications and can provide virtually silent power with significantly lower fuel consumption and exhaust emission than existing generator sets. Additional benefits projected include higher reliability and lower maintenance than today’s systems, says Cummins.
The prototype unit tested for SECA produced 3 kW of electrical power while operating on commercial pipeline natural gas and ran flawlessly for over 2000 hours at Cummins Power Generation’s test facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota demonstrating an efficiency of over 37%.
Commenting on the advantages of the SOFC system Xin Li said: ‘In the case of CHP, in addition to the significant green credentials, the possible financial savings to the consumer are considerable. For example, for home CHP applications the natural gas-powered SOFC system can deliver over 70% efficiency which, when converted to current home pipeline natural gas prices, represents half the cost of regular supply electricity.’