Premium Power (October 1998)
Modular 2KVA Fuel Cell Power Plant with Live Replaceable, Self-Hydrating, PEM Smart Cartridges
Advance the technology of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells with radical changes in design, materials, and manufacture that will reduce the cost of production an order of magnitude, enabling the manufacture of reliable, cost-effective modular fuel cell power plants for clean, stand-alone, distributed power.
Sponsor: Avista LabsE. 1411 Mission Drive
Spokane, WA 99202
Fuel cells generate electricity without combustion through electrochemical reactions in which hydrogen from a hydrogen-rich fuel and oxygen from air combine to produce electricity, water, and heat. Simple, quiet, clean, uninterruptible fuel cells to supply electric power would be attractive to many homes and businesses if the cells can be made to meet or beat the cost of energy supplied by utilities. Washington Water Power's affiliate, Avista Labs, proposes to break this cost barrier with an innovative design for making proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell power units. Avista Labs' fuel cell power units are composed of PEM cartridges that can be replaced without interrupting generation and can use the water produced in conjunction with fan-forced air to promote cooling and self-hydration. These features simplify system performance by reducing balance-of-plant to a minimum. The advanced cartridges will incorporate embedded control functions to protect membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) from conditions leading to loss of life or failure. To reach the aggressive cost goal, Avista Labs will have to press the state of the art in the ways components are designed and made. Avista Labs faces significant challenges in the areas of innovative current collection; integration of a compact, low-cost fuel processor; substantial improvements in MEA and cartridge production methods; and finally in the area of integrating the interconnect, control, and protection electronics. If the design challenges can be met, they should enable the eventual production of modular, cost-effective 2-5 kilowatt fuel cell power units. Catalytica Advanced Technologies (Mountain View, Calif.) and REB Research & Consulting (Oak Park, Mich.) will be involved in the fuel processor development. Molecular Simulation, Inc. (San Diego, Calif.) and other U.S. firms will cooperate on other aspects of the project and in the supply of services and materials. The ATP funding will enable Avista Labs to accelerate development of their novel fuel cell technology by several years. Initial applications will include backup power and situations where high-quality power is needed. In addition to providing a new source of cost-effective, high-quality, decentralized power, a successful project would encourage greater use of alternate fuels such as methane, methanol, and propane.