Advanced Technology Program ATP Home Page NIST Home Page

Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Electronics and Photonics

Low Cost Fuel Cell System Technologies Development

Develop four technologies - a power-control system that uses digital signal processing, a carbon nanotube hybrid electrode for superior stack performance, hydrogen pumping for coping with sporadic demands for high power, and electroimpedance spectroscopy for humidity management - that reduce the cost of fuel-cell-produced energy to levels competitive with power grids, thus stimulating much wider use of fuel cells.

Sponsor: Plug Power Inc.

968 Albany Shaker Road
Latham, NY 12110
  • Project Performance Period: 12/1/2003 - 5/30/2006
  • Total project (est.): $3,853,543.00
  • Requested ATP funds: $1,879,586.00

Plug Power will pursue a combination of four next-generation technologies intended to make distributed fuel cells cost competitive with electric power generated at large central facilities and provided to users through region-spanning transmission grids. In a fuel-cell-based distributed energy system, energy would be produced at the point of demand, eliminating transmission-line power losses and quality problems. Other benefits would include reduced power plant emissions, reduced dependence on imported foreign oil, and reduced vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of grid-based electricity. Plug Power has zeroed in on the cost drivers associated with distributed power production with mid-sized proton-exchange-membrane fuel cells. A set of highly innovative technical approaches will be explored in this two-year project to drive fuel cell operating costs down to grid power levels (about 10 cents per kilowatt hour). Innovative approaches include a sophisticated power control system, carbon nanotube electrodes, hydrogen pumping for surge power needs, and advanced humidity management for reliability. The Albany Nanotechnology Institute at the State University of New York will develop nanotube electrode material as part of this project. Each innovation will require the equivalent of a leap-frog advance, not merely incremental improvements of existing technologies. Risks are increased by the interdependence of the research and development efforts - each must succeed to ultimately achieve the hoped-for operating cost reductions. Together, these challenges - along with the disruptive nature of fuel-cell technology - present technical risks well beyond the thresholds of venture capital firms and other potential outside funders. ATP funding is necessary if the company is to succeed within the next three to five years, when the initial mass market for power fuel cells is expected to materialize. The United States currently maintains a slim lead in fuel cell technology. By aggressively pursuing the innovations necessary to make fuel cells commercially viable, the U.S. industry has the potential to win the race to manufacture commercially successful fuel cell systems and benefit from export-driven job growth.

For project information:
Cynthia Mahoney White, (518) 782-7700

ATP Project Manager
Gerald Castellucci, (301) 975-2435

ATP website comments:
Privacy Statement / Security Notice NIST Disclaimer NIST Information Quality Standards
NIST is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department