The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced in February that it plans to provide $48.5 million to FuelCell Energy Inc., to research and develop technology leading to near-zero emission fuel cell power plants that efficiently convert coal to electricity. The 100-megawatt, solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) power plants would operate at an efficiency rate approaching 60 percent and would emit near-zero levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and greenhouse gas. Fuel cell systems are seen as an important developing energy source because they produce efficient and environmentally friendly power from domestic coal resources, lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Versa Power Systems Inc., Nexant Inc., and Gas Technology Institute will partner with FuelCell Energy on the ten-year project. FuelCell Energy will develop the overall systems of the SOFC power plant, Versa Power Systems will provide state-of-the-art SOFC stack technology development, Nexant will advise on the coal gasification process, and Gas Technology Institute will conduct fuel cell pressurization tests.

The research will be conducted in three phases. Phase I will last three years and include the design, cost analysis, fabrication, and testing of large-scale fuel cell stacks. Phases II and III will focus on the creation of aggregate fuel cell systems, which will result in proof-of-concept systems that will be field tested for a minimum of twenty-five thousand hours.

FuelCell Energy is the third company to receive DOE funding under DOE’s Fuel Cell Coal-Based Systems Program. General Electric Hybrid Power Generation Systems and Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation lead the two other research teams. DOE’s program requires that each system have at least 50 percent overall efficiency in converting the energy contained in coal to grid electrical power, capture 90 percent or more of the system’s carbon dioxide emissions, and cost a maximum of $400 per kilowatt, not including the coal gasification unit and carbon dioxide separation systems.

“Coal technology development is a keystone of the President’s new Advanced Energy Initiative,” said Wayne Surdoval, DOE Technology Manager. “The clean and efficient use of coal is vital to our nation’s energy security.”

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