SOFCs: clean at a cost

Out of all types of different fuel cells SOFCs are the most efficient producer of electricity, have extremely low emissions, and the potential for long life cycles [1].   In 1999 SECA (Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance) was formed to unite the government, the scientific community, and industry to push forward the development of SOFCs for both commercial and military use [2].  Since this push by SECA many advancements have been made, such as a fuel cell which surpassed 5000 hours of operation [3], as well as advancements in the cathode material which allow for significantly lower operation temperatures [1].  The tricky bit about SOFCs are that they operate at temperatures which range from 800 – 1000 ºC, and due to this high temperature, require the use of expensive materials [4].  However, SOFCs are a promising way to use gasified coal to produce electricity with low emissions, and thus the Department of Energy, through the Office of Fossil Energy, is pushing for the success of this technology.  It is my personal opinion that oxide heterostructures grown by pulsed laser deposition and molecular beam epitaxy will allow for a solution to the high operating temperatures and make SOFCs a large part of our clean energy future.   However, I can’t help but wonder if funding for SOFCs is being wasted on another expensive attempt to make clean energy, but as someone who studies oxides I guess I should be complaining.

[1] A. Boudghene Stambouli , E. Traversa. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 6 (2002) 433–455

[2] Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA):  http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/coalpower/fuelcells/seca/

[3] Fuel Cell Stacks Still Going Strong After 5,000 Hours:

http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/press/2009/09018-Fuel_Cell_Exceeds_Goals.html

[4]  Material to Chill “Dirty” Fuel Cells:  http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/23559/

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