Gasoline SOFC under Development for Automotive Applications

05 Dec 2011

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a gasoline powered variant of a solid oxide fuel cell for use in automotive applications that can be twice as efficient as an internal combustion engine. Fuel cells that can more cleanly and efficiently process gasoline from the world’s existing fuelling infrastructure hold an obvious appeal but are hampered for use in vehicles by their traditionally large size and extreme operating temperatures, typically around 900°C.

Gasoline SOFC under Development for Automotive ApplicationsHowever, through modifications to stack design and the thinning of the solid electrolyte material, research director Eric Wachsman claims a power density ten times that of conventional SOFC with an operating temperature of 650°C, with a goal to further reduce temperature to 350°C. The lower the operating temperature, the less stress the system is under and the cheaper the fuel cell components can be. The lower temperatures also allow for swifter cell start-up times but to meet the instantaneous accelerative demands of a car, which would quickly degrade a SOFC stack, the system would be hybridised with a battery – this is common amongst FCEV but in this instance the dependence on the battery would be greater.

The project is part of a wider Department of Energy initiative over the last decade to make SOFC practical for transportation use. Wachsman’s cells still need considerable engineering work before they could be used in cars and first applications are likely to be in long-haul trucks which offer more forgiving dimensions than conventional vehicles.

Image: University of Maryland

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