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REBELS

Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems

Fuel cell technologies have been touted for decades due to their high chemical-to-electrical conversion efficiencies and potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Fuel cell technologies for power generation have not achieved widespread adoption, however, due primarily to their high cost relative to more established combustion technologies. There is a critical need to develop fuel cell technologies that can enable distributed power generation at low cost and high performance. The projects that comprise ARPA-E's Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems (REBELS) program include transformational fuel cell devices that operate in an intermediate temperature range in an attempt to create new pathways to achieve an installed cost to the end-user of less than $1,500/kW at moderate production volumes and create new fuel cell functionality that will help increase grid stability and integration of renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Argonne National Laboratory

Intermediate Temperature Hybrid Fuel Cell System for the Conversion of Natural Gas to Electricity and Liquid Fuels

ANL is developing a new hybrid fuel cell technology that could generate both electricity and liquid fuels from natural gas. Existing fuel cell technologies typically convert chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity during a chemical reaction with oxygen or some other agent. In addition to generating electricity from hydrogen, ANL's fuel cell would produce ethylene--a liquid fuel precursor--from natural gas. In this design, a methane-coupling catalyst is added to the anode side of a fuel cell that, when fed with natural gas, creates a chemical reaction that produces ethylene and utilizes leftover hydrogen, which is then passed through a proton-conducting membrane to generate electricity. Removing hydrogen from the reaction site leads to increased conversion of natural gas to ethylene.

Colorado School of Mines

Low-Cost Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Flexible Protonic Ceramic Fuel Cell Stack

The Colorado School of Mines (Mines) is developing a mixed proton and oxygen ion conducting electrolyte that will allow a fuel cell to operate at temperatures less than 500°C. By using a proton and oxygen ion electrolyte, the fuel cell stack is able to reduce coking - which clogs anodes with carbon deposits - and enhance the process of turning hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen. Today's ceramic fuel cells are based on oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes and operate at high temperatures. Mines' advanced mixed proton and oxygen-ion conducting fuel cells will operate on lower temperatures, and have the capacity to run on hydrogen, ethanol, methanol, or methane, representing a drastic improvement over using only oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes. Additionally, the fuel cell will leverage a recently developed ceramic processing technique that decreases fuel cell manufacturing cost and complexity. Additionally, their technology will reduce the number of manufacturing steps from 15 to 3, drastically reducing the cost of distributed generation applications.

FuelCell Energy, Inc.

Dual-Mode Intermediate Temperature Fuel Cell: Liquid Fuels and Electricity

FuelCell Energy will develop an intermediate-temperature fuel cell that will directly convert methane to methanol and other liquid fuels using advanced metal catalysts. Existing fuel cell technologies typically convert chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity during a chemical reaction with oxygen or some other agent. FuelCell Energy's cell would create liquid fuel from natural gas. Their advanced catalysts are optimized to improve the yield and selectivity of methane-to-methanol reactions; this efficiency provides the ability to run a fuel cell on methane instead of hydrogen. In addition, FuelCell Energy will utilize a new reactive spray deposition technique that can be employed to manufacture their fuel cell in a continuous process. The combination of these advanced catalysts and advanced manufacturing techniques will reduce overall system-level costs.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

A Novel Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cell Tailored for Efficient Utilization of Methane

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Georgia Tech) is developing a fuel cell that operates at temperatures less than 500°C by integrating nanostructured materials into all cell components. This is a departure from traditional fuel cells that operate at much lower or much higher temperatures. By developing multifunctional anodes that can efficiently reform and directly process methane, this fuel cell will allow for efficient use of methane. Additionally, the Georgia Tech team will develop nanocomposite electrolytes to reduce cell temperature without sacrificing system performance. These technological advances will enable an efficient, intermediate-temperature fuel cell for distributed generation applications.

Materials & Systems Research, Inc.

Intermediate-Temperature Electrogenerative Cells for Flexible Cogeneration of Power and Liquid Fuel

Materials & Systems Research, Inc. (MSRI) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell capable of electrochemically converting natural gas into electricity or liquid fuel in a single step. Existing solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) convert the chemical energy of hydrocarbons--such as hydrogen or methane--into electricity at higher efficiencies than traditional power generators, but are expensive to manufacture and operate at extremely high temperatures, introducing durability and cost concerns over time. Existing processes for converting methane to liquid transportation fuels are also capital intensive. MSRI's technology would convert natural gas into liquid fuel using efficient catalysts and a cost-effective fabrication process that can be readily scaled up for mass production. MSRI's technology will provide low-cost power or liquid fuel while operating in a temperature range of 400-500ºC, enabling better durability than today's high-temperature fuel cells.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Nanocomposite Electrodes for a Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack Operating on Reformate

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is redesigning a fuel cell electrode that operates at 250ºC. Today's solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) contain relatively inefficient cathodes, which require expensive platinum catalysts for the chemical reactions to take place. ORNL's fuel cell will contain highly porous carbon nanostructures that increase the amount of surface area of the cell's electrolyte, and substantially reduce the amount of catalyst required by the cell. By using nanostructured electrodes, ORNL can increase the performance of SAFC cathodes at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies. The ORNL team will also modify existing fuel processors to operate efficiently at reduced temperatures; those processors will work in conjunction with the fuel cell to lower costs at the system level. ORNL's innovations will enable efficient distributed electricity generation from domestic fuel sources using less expensive catalysts.

Palo Alto Research Center

Reformer-less Oxygen Conducting Natural Gas Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cell (RONIN)

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell that is capable of utilizing a wide variety of carbon-based input fuels such as methane, butane, propane, or coal without reformation. Current fuel cell technologies require the use of a reformer - which turns hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen and can generate heat and produce gases. PARC's design will include a novel electrolyte membrane system that doesn't have a methane-to-hydrogen reformer, and transports oxygen in a form that allows it to react directly with almost any fuel. This new membrane system eliminates the need for a separate fuel processing system all while reducing overall costs. PARC's fuel cell will also operate at relatively low temperatures of 200-300ºC which allows it to use less expensive materials and maintain durability. With the use of these materials, the fuel cell system avoids the long-term durability problems associated with existing higher-temperature fuel cells, all while reducing overall costs.

Redox Power Systems, LLC

Low-Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for Transformational Energy Conversion

Redox Power Systems is developing a fuel cell with a mid-temperature operating target of 400°C while maintaining high power density and enabling faster cycling. Current fuel cell systems are expensive and bulky, which limits their commercialization and widespread adoption for distributed generation and other applications. Such state-of-the-art systems consist of fuel cells that either use a mixture of ceramic oxide materials that require high temperatures (~800°C) for grid-scale applications or are polymer-based technology with prohibitive low temperature operation for vehicle technologies. By combining advanced materials that have traditionally been unstable alone, Redox will create a new two-layer electrolyte configuration incorporating nano-enabled electrodes and stable ceramic anodes. The use of these materials will increase system power density and will have a startup time of less than 10 minutes, making them more responsive to demand. Redox is also developing a new fuel processor system optimized to work with their low-temperature solid oxide fuel cells. This new material configuration also allows the operating temperature to be reduced when incorporated into commercially fabricated fuel cells. These advances will enable Redox to produce a lower cost distributed generation product, as well as to enter new markets such as embedded power for datacenters.

SAFCell, Inc.

Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack for Distributed Generation Applications

SAFCell is developing solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) that operate at 250 °C and will be nearly free of precious metal catalysts. Current fuel cells either rely on ultra-pure hydrogen as a fuel and operate at low temperatures for vehicles technologies, or run on natural gas, but operate only at high temperatures for grid-scale applications. SAFCell's fuel cell is utilizing a new solid acid electrolyte material to operate efficiently at intermediate temperatures and on multiple fuels. Additionally, the team will dramatically lower system costs by reducing precious metals, such as platinum, from the electrodes and developing new catalysts based on carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. The proposed SAFC stack design will lead to the creation of low cost fuel cells that can withstand common fuel impurities, making them ideal for distributed generation applications.

SiEnergy Systems

Direct Hydrocarbon Fuel Cell - Battery Hybrid Electrochemical System

SiEnergy Systems is developing a hybrid electrochemical system that uses a multi-functional electrode to allow the cell to perform as both a fuel cell and a battery, a capability that does not exist today. A fuel cell can convert chemical energy stored in domestically abundant natural gas to electrical energy at high efficiency, but adoption of these technologies has been slow due to high cost and limited functionality. SiEnergy's design would expand the functional capability of a fuel cell to two modes: fuel cell mode and battery mode. In fuel cell mode, non-precious metal catalysts are integrated at the cell's anode to react directly with hydrocarbons such as the methane found in natural gas. In battery mode, the system will provide storage capability that offers faster response to changes in power demand compared to a standard fuel cell. SiEnergy's technology will operate at relatively low temperatures of 300-500ºC, which makes the system more durable than existing high-temperature fuel cells.

United Technologies Research Center

Development of an Intermediate Temperature Metal Supported Proton Conducting Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell for residential applications that will combine a building's heating and power systems into one unit. Existing fuel cell technologies usually focus on operating low temperatures for vehicle technologies or at high temperatures for grid-scale applications. By creating a metal-supported proton conducting fuel cell with a natural gas fuel processor, UTRC could lower the operating system temperatures to under 500 °C. The use of metal offers faster start-up times and the possibility of lower manufacturing costs and additional automation options, while the proton conducting electrolyte offers the potential for higher ionic conductivity at lower temperatures than regular oxygen conducting solid oxide electrolyte materials. An intermediate temperature electrolyte will be used to achieve a lower operating temperature, while a redesigned cell architecture will increase the efficiency and lower the cost of UTRC's overall system.

University of California, Los Angeles

Fuel Cells with Dynamic Response Capability Based on Energy Storage Electrodes with Catalytic Function

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is developing a low-cost, intermediate-temperature fuel cell that will also function like a battery to increase load-following capability. The fuel cell will use new metal-oxide electrode materials--inspired by the proton channels found in biological systems--that offer superior energy storage capacity and cycling stability, making it ideal for distributed generation systems. UCLA's new materials also have high catalytic activity, which will lower the cost of the overall system. Success of this project will enable a rapid commercialization of multi-functional fuel cells for broad applications where reliable distributed generations are needed.

University of South Carolina

A Novel Intermediate-Temperature Bi-functional Ceramic Fuel Cell Energy System

The University of South Carolina is developing an intermediate-temperature, ceramic-based fuel cell that will both generate and store electrical power with high efficiencies. Reducing operating temperatures for fuel cells is critical to enabling distributed power generation. The device will incorporate a newly discovered ceramic electrolyte and nanostructured electrodes that enable it to operate at temperatures lower than 500ºC, far below the temperatures associated with fuel cells for grid-scale power generation. The fuel cell's unique design includes an iron-based layer that stores electrical charge like a battery, enabling a faster response to changes in power demand.
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