FC Expo 2012 Day One

01 Mar 2012

Fuel Cell Today has been attending the FC Expo in Japan for several years; this year as we walked the floor at the opening of the first day we noticed an increased presence of companies providing SOFC technology. Complete SOFC systems are on offer at the show ranging from small, low wattage tubular systems, up to kilowatt-scale planer stacks. Probably the most well-known Japanese SOFC is the new Ene-Farm product by Eneos Celltech distributed by JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. This 700 kW SOFC system was introduced in November 2011 and competes with its own established PEMFC system and those of Panasonic and Toshiba. Eneos’ SOFC differs from its PEMFC competitors in that it is an electricity-led system, providing hot water as a secondary product. The higher operating temperature of SOFC technology provides the integrated storage tank with hot water at 70° C, ten degrees Celsius higher than its PEMFC cousins. This hot water is mixed with cold water for household use, so the higher temperature enables the system to install a smaller hot water tank reducing the overall footprint. Since the system was introduced, around 300 units have been installed and Eneos is anticipating further growth as SOFC becomes more established in the scheme.

The successful release of an SOFC Ene-Farm is a firm indication of an increasing interest and demand for SOFC products in Japan. Sumitomo Precision products is showcasing a similar 1 kW SOFC stationary fuel cell that is in an advanced stage of development. It is interested in the Ene-Farm scheme, but will need to join forces with a system integrator to produce a suitable product to enter the scheme. Also under development is a larger version of the same system, with a rating of 5 kW, aimed at small factories and in the longer term, Sumitomo has plans to develop SOFC systems up to 100 kW.

Like many fuel cell technologies, SOFC is a scalable technology and is seeing strong adoption in the large stationary sector; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is developing a large scale fuel cell combined cycle system industrial power plant under its Solidia brand. The company is planning three sizes of the plant: a 0.25-1.35 MW combined SOFC and gas turbine system; a 40 MW upscaled version of the same system; and an 80 MW combined SOFC, gas turbine and steam turbine system. The systems will be developed and commercialised from smallest to largest; they will be fed with natural gas and are expected to be 60-75% efficient. Mitsubishi plans to manufacture the whole product but initially it will buy in SOFC stacks.

As the SOFC market expands we expect to see an increasing number of companies that develop materials that can be used within SOFC diversifying into fuel cell development. Hitachi Materials Magic, a subsidiary of Hitachi Metals, Ltd., has been creating alloys for use in car engines for over twenty years; it is now adapting the Nickel-Chromium (Ni-Cr) alloys it developed for the automotive industry for use in SOFC.

SOFC technology is based on ceramics; it is only natural that we can see ceramics companies diversifying into SOFC development. NTK have developed proprietary ceramic technology that it is now looking to apply to SOFC – the company claims to have achieved a world leading 1.3 W/cm2 power density through optimisation of pore size and porosity of the electrodes. The company is hoping to commercialise the technology to system integrators by 2018 after several years of field testing and product optimisation.

Presidio Components, a 200 person strong San Diego-based multi-layer ceramic capacitor manufacturer, launched an SOFC subsidiary several years ago. Violet Fuel Cell Sticks is developing an innovative SOFC technology that combines the strengths of planer and tubular SOFC whilst addressing several of their shortcomings. Planer SOFC are prone to cracking if not carefully heated over a long period; tubular SOFC remove this shortcoming but are volume inefficient. A white paper, published in 2008, details Violet’s solution: a flat ‘stick’ that contains many tiny tube-like fuel and air channels with multiple plate-like thin electrolyte layers between rows of tubes – together forming an SOFC that is small, efficient, and can be heated rapidly whilst withstanding cracking. Violet is independently funded and is quietly advancing its technology until it is ready for commercialisation.


Industry Review

The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2012: Available now for free download.

2012 IR cover

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