Record run by solid oxide fuel cell comes to successful conclusion

Netherlands test shows reliability of advanced technology

WESTERVOORT, the Netherlands, Jan. 15, 2001 à‚– The world’s longest running fuel cell ௿½ a 100-kilowatt unit that has helped validate the promise of a future all-solid-state, combustion-less source of electricity ௿½ has successfully completed its planned test program.

The pioneering “solid oxide fuel cell” was built by the Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation as part of the Department of Energy’s advanced power technology program. First started up in December 1997 at a Netherlands power station, the unit accumulated 16,612 hours of operation ௿½ proving that the revolutionary concept of an all-ceramic fuel cell is rugged and reliable enough for future commercial power generation.

Siemens Westinghouse’s 100-kW solid oxide fuel cell generated reliable power for more than 16,600 hours à‚– and appears ready to keep on going.

The fuel cell operates on the same principles as a battery ௿½ and like the famous battery commercial, the Netherlands system appears ready to “keep on going and going.” Siemens-Westinghouse plans to relocate the fuel cell and restart it.

Based largely on the success of the Netherlands unit, larger solid oxide fuel cells are now being designed and tested. In the Energy Department’s program, a 220-kilowatt Siemens Westinghouse solid oxide fuel cell-microturbine “hybrid” system is starting up at the University of California-Irvine, and a 1-megawatt (1,000-kilowatt) system is being planned for Fort Meade, Maryland. Siemens Westinghouse has also announced plans for a 1-megawatt unit to be tested in Europe.

The 100-kilowatt system installed at a power plant in Westervoort, the Netherlands, provided much of the technical data Siemens Westinghouse engineers needed to develop the solid oxide fuel cell concept. Commercial versions of the technology are now expected to be ready for delivery in 2004.

The Siemens Westinghouse solid oxide fuel cell is a concentric arrangement of electrically-conductive ceramic tubes. Fueled by natural gas, the system generates electricity by a quiet, highly efficient electrochemical reaction. Because no combustion is involved, the system produces almost none of the pollutants commonly associated with conventional power plant boilers.

For much of its operation in Westervoort, the Netherlands, the 100-kilowatt cogeneration system ran virtually unattended. The system was so reliable that technicians from the local utility, NUON, typically checked up on the unit only one day each week.

Following its initial installation, the system ran for 4035 hours before being returned to the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Center in Pittsburgh, PA, for improvements and modifications. The rebuilt module was re-installed at the Netherlands power station in March 1999 and since then accumulated nearly 12,600 hours of operations. The system was shut down when it completed its contracted operating period of two years.

Perhaps the most impressive ௿½ and technically significant ௿½ aspect of the fuel cell’s long-running performance was its remarkable lack of performance degradation.

When the unit was finally shut down, it was providing 110 kilowatts of electric power into the local grid ௿½ more than its original nameplate capacity ௿½ and showed no signs of diminishing performance. Preventing power degradation over long periods of operation is one of the key technical challenges facing fuel cell designers, and the Westervoort system has set a new standard for steady-state power production.

At the point of shutdown, the unit was also sustaining a power generating efficiency of more than 46 percent, well above a conventional combustion-based power plant that typically generates electricity at efficiencies of 33 to 35 percent. It was also providing the equivalent of 65 kilowatts of thermal energy in the form of hot water to the local district heating system.

Air emissions from the unit ௿½ nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile hydrocarbons ௿½ all measured less than 1 part per million (by volume), significantly below the most stringent of clean air standards.

A consortium of Dutch and Danish utilities, called EDB/ELSAM, joined with Siemens Westinghouse to host the test program. EDB refers to the Dutch energy distribution companies NUON, Essent and ENECO, and the Federation EnergieNed. ELSAM is an electricity production company in Denmark. EnergieNed managed the project for the consortium.

Funding for the project was provided by the Dutch government agency Novem, the U.S. Department of Energy, and Siemens Westinghouse. Siemens Westinghouse is developing its fuel cell technology under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy through the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

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