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Development of next-generation SOFC stack for small stationary applications

The goal of the topic is to foster the development of next-generation SOFC stack and/or hotbox/ integrated stack module technology, of European ownership, as a technical platform serving small-power (<5 kWe) stationary applications, including but not limited to Residential µCHP, by improving:

  1. Product design: increasing the electrical efficiency and the durability of the ceramic-based cells, stack and ancillary hotbox components used for small-power CHP and power-only production, while reducing costs, in order to secure a clear value proposition to the final customer compared to conventional solutions;
  2. Manufacturability: integrating industrialization considerations into the design, from the start, by implementing world-class ceramic technologies, with high-volume, low cost / high productivity characteristics, in the field of forming, sintering / depositing, finishing and assembly. These ceramic technologies should be easily scalable in the future to ensure the cost-down potential;
  3. Standards and European Supply Chain integration: cooperating between European component and system manufacturers to solidify EU supply chains, and define battery limits compatible for integration. Those agreed battery limits will be publicly available also to other EU stack manufacturers not participating;
  4. Intellectual Property: strengthening European technology leadership by leveraging the European industry’s capabilities and ceramic know-how, and consolidating IP positions with European ownership.

In order to solve the challenge the project is expected to include some of the following tasks:

  • the elaboration of advanced ceramic-based cell structure and design, including innovative electrolyte / electrodes / interconnect layers;
  • new material sets allowing better durability, electrical efficiency, low cost and better processability;
  • high productivity / low cost ceramic manufacturing processes (raw material batch preparation, green forming, sintering / depositing, finishing, assembly);
  • novel geometries and designs for the stack and ancillary hotbox/integrated stack module components (insulation, gas manifold, electrical connections, heat exchangers etc.);

Within the project, the following will be performed:

  • the design and development of (at least) one 1 kWe cell stack (potentially integrated into a hotbox/integrated stack module) prototype;
  • a test-bench demonstration of performance under application-relevant test conditions, including a durability run lasting more than 5000 consecutive hours, start-up and shut down cycles, dynamic load cycles, fuel quality (hydrogen, reformed gases);
  • a detailed cost model allowing to assess economic benefits of such new stack options in comparison with more conventional solutions.

A collaboration mechanism needs to be developed with the JRC, in relation to the ongoing EU protocol harmonisation and validation activities performed in support of the FCH2-JU programme.

To be eligible for participation a consortium must contain at least one constituent entity from the Industry and from the Research Grouping.

TRL 3 at start to TRL 5 at the end.

Any safety-related event that may occur during execution of the project shall be reported to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), which manages the European hydrogen safety reference database, HIAD (dedicated mailbox

The FCH 2 JU considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 3 million would allow the specific challenges to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected duration: 3 years

The market for fuel cells in small-power applications (between 0.3 and 5 kWe), is progressively taking shape worldwide. The most promising application, in terms of societal and environmental impact, is the residential micro Combined Heat and Power (µCHP), as suggested by the study Advancing Energy Systems (reference 1) published by FCH-JU in 2015. Other small-scale applications (telecom towers, data centers, HVAC, remote power, small commercial etc.) use the same technical platform and may provide a quicker market uptake. The Japanese industry, thanks to its ambitious ENE-FARM program, has taken the lead in technology development in this field, and is enjoying economies of scale. In Europe, a much smaller-scale effort is underway, in a more fragmented market.

Until now, PEMFC (Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell) technology dominates the market with Intellectual Property largely in the hands of Japanese groups. However, ceramic-based technologies, in particular SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cells), still pose as a promising alternative for future systems.

Despite its recognized potential, the SOFC technology still needs to mature on specific dimensions at cell, stack and hotbox levels (such as material sets, manufacturability and components design), in order to fulfill the cost and performance demands of the small-power customer– typically a long lifetime (10 years), high electrical efficiency (55% to 60% or more) and acceptable cost (less than 15 000 €/kW for a system). Moreover, working on next-generation, disruptive technology will allow European industries and consumers to avoid depending on Asian-imported technology.

The main challenge that this project intends to address is to develop a next generation Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC) stack/hotbox technical platform for small stationary applications, which is fully competitive with today’s integrated Japanese SOFC power modules, and which satisfies fully the European customers’ needs while leveraging the European supply chain.

The projects are expected to contribute to validate the targets contained in the MAWP 2014–2020, or even go beyond, in particular the specific KPIs related to small-power (<5 kWe) stationary applications, including but not limited to Residential µCHP, using SOFC / ceramic-based technologies. It is believed that if the following criteria are met, the SOFC system’s performance and economics will be suitable for a market take-off.

  • Stack performance in commercially relevant assembly (note : not individual cell performance): DC efficiency of at least 55%, for example by achieving voltage 0.83 V/cell at current density 0.30 A/cm2 under reformed natural gas and air. Operating conditions : air utilization >35% and fuel utilization >65%
  • Lifetime > 90 000 hours (defined as accumulated performance loss reaching 20%) :
    • Steady state degradation rate <0.1% per thousand hours, proven over a test duration of at least 5000 hours
    • Resistance to normal cycling : <0.01% per cycle (controlled shut-down with stack brought to T<125°C) proven over at least 50 cycles
    • Resistance to emergency shut-down : <0.25% per cycle (redox cycle such as fuel loss at operational temperature, specific to the system outlay) proven over at least 10 cycles
  • Stack Cost: below 1000 €/KWe ultimately, as manufactured in a production plant with a capacity of > 50 MWe/y. This stack cost includes not only the cells but also the gas manifold, current collectors, compression systems, and potentially insulations and heat exchangers depending on the design;