Fuel Cells with Dynamic Response Capability
Centralized power generation systems offer excellent economy of scale but often require long transmission distances between supply and distribution points, leading to efficiency losses throughout the grid. Additionally, it can be challenging to integrate energy from renewable energy sources into centralized systems. Fuel cells—or devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel source into electrical energy—are optimal for distributed power generation systems, which generate power close to where it is used. Distributed generation systems offer an alternative to the large, centralized power generation facilities or power plants that are currently commonplace. There is also a need for small, modular technologies that convert natural gas to liquid fuels and other products for easier transport. Such processes are currently limited to very large installations with high capital expenses. Today’s fuel cell research generally focuses on technologies that either operate at high temperatures for grid-scale applications or at low temperatures for vehicle technologies. There is a critical need for intermediate-temperature fuel cells that offer low-cost, distributed generation both at the system and device levels.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
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.
If successful, UCLA’s intermediate-temperature fuel cell will offer battery-like functionality that could last for over 1000 cycles and response times under 1 second.
Enabling more efficient use of natural gas for power generation provides a reliable alternative to other fuel sources—a broader fuel portfolio means more energy security.
Natural gas produces roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to existing sources of power generation.
Distributed generation technologies would reduce costs associated with power losses compared to centralized power stations and provide lower operating costs due to peak shaving.