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New Report Identifies Ways to Reduce Cost of Fuel Cell Power Plants

October 25, 2010

A new report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—Molten Carbonate and Phosphoric Acid Stationary Fuel Cells: Overview and Gap Analysis (PDF 1.5 MB)—details technical and cost gap analyses of molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) and phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC) stationary fuel cell power plants and identifies pathways for reducing costs.

Results show that significant cost reductions can be achieved through technical advancements on several fronts. MCFC R&D areas to be addressed involve extending fuel cell stack life to 10 years and increasing power density by 20%.

One of the most important issues identified, which is pertinent for both types of fuel cells, is the development of a cost-effective process for removing contaminants in the fuel, especially those found in renewable fuels. Results also support the claim that volume production will bring down costs.

One important issue identified in the PAFC analysis is platinum costs, which currently constitute 10-15% of the installed costs of a PAFC power plant. As with the MCFC power plant, an increase in PAFC power density would help reduce costs—solving the anion adsorption problem at the fuel cell cathode would bring about a 20% increase in power density and a concomitant decrease in the cost per kilowatt of the existing technology.

Dr. Robert Remick at NREL performed the MCFC analysis, and Douglas Wheeler at DJW Technology, LLC, performed the PAFC analysis. The MCFC developer, FuelCell Energy, Inc. of Danbury, Connecticut, provided information on the current costs of manufacturing its products and shared its vision for reducing costs by 2020. The PAFC developer, UTC Power, Inc., provided insight into opportunities for cost reduction that could yield to additional technology advancement but were more circumspect with proprietary cost data.