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Advanced DIR-MCFC development

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Environmentally clean energy plants for the future

Heat and power plants based on fuel cell technology can make a major contribution to achieving sustainable energy production. Technological breakthroughs have reduced the cost of these plants and market analysis has identified potential future customers.

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Fuel cells may provide a solution to the very important problem of energy supply while at the same time the process of producing energy is environmentally clean and safe. Engines based on this technology are in essence converting the chemical energy of hydrogen (the most common fuel) into electrical energy. The conversion takes place through simple electrolytic oxidation-reduction reactions in the presence of a hot electrolyte. The oxidation of hydrogen at the cathode and the reduction of oxygen from air at the anode result in the formation of water and electric current. In contrast with internal combustion engines that have efficiencies limited by the laws of thermodynamics, fuel cells are more efficient. Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells (MCFC) use a molten solution of Lithium/Sodium/Potassium carbonate, (Li/Na/K)2CO3, for an electrolyte. The high capital cost of fuel cell power plants hinders their industrial application. The cost rises mainly due to the cost of materials and stacks and cannot be compensated by the higher efficiency and the low cost of burning fuel. This project has developed a highly innovative system, coded SMARTER, that achieves low cost of energy, but not low enough when compared with competing technologies like a gas engine. The system is modular, with each module consisting of three Direct Internal Reforming (DIR) MCFC stacks of 20 cells each. Fuel reforming is the production of hydrogen from other hydrocarbon fuels, in this case natural gas. It is the only step in the process where minute quantities of pollutants like CO and NOx are being produced. Extensive market analysis has shown that a DIR-MCFC plant with an output of 400kWe that cogenerates power and heat/cold will have wide applications when competitive. Hospitals, leisure centres, hotels from the commercial sector, green houses from the agricultural sector and light process industries are attractive potential users.

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