Hybrid fuel cell due testing


The US Department of Energy said a new type of fuel cell power plant has been constructed and will be tested soon.


The US Department of Energy said a new type of fuel cell power plant has been constructed and will be tested soon.

The Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. 220-kw power system is claimed to be the first to combine a solid oxide fuel cell and a natural gas microturbine in an innovative hybrid configuration. DOE said the combination should be the cleanest and most efficient way to produce electricity.

Energy Sec. Bill Richardson said, "For a world that is becoming increasingly electrified, this new power technology comes at the right time."

Siemens Westinghouse developed and fabricated the power plant, which passed initial tests in April. The plant will be shipped to the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California at Irvine, where Southern California Edison Co. will operate it commercially for a year.

DOE said the system is expected to generate electric power at 55% efficiency, meaning that 55% of the energy value of the natural gas fuel will be converted into electricity. A conventional coal plant converts only 35% of its fuel into electricity, and natural gas turbines average just over 50%.

The technology relies on a solid oxide fuel cell, an assembly of 1,152 tubular ceramic cells that will generate about 200 kw. The unit is said to be the world's first to operate the cells under high pressures and to use the hot, pressurized exhaust gases to drive a microturbine generator, which will generate another 20 kw.

DOE said nitrogen oxides emissions will be only about 0.5 ppm, nearly 50 times less than today's average gas turbines. It said Siemens Westinghouse expects that electrical efficiencies of more than 70% can be achieved as its hybrid technology improves. The firm will develop and test several solid oxide fuel cell systems over the next 2 years under DOE's advanced fuel cell program.

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