Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, Advanced Hybrid Power System Controls and their Role in Transfiguring the Grid

R. Lank, D. Tucker
DERP Technologies, L.L.C.,
United States

Keywords: thermal storage, hybrid power systems, microgrids, smart grid, distributed generation


Distribution generation (DG) and microgrids integrated into the nation's distribution grid are the future of the nation's power supply; at the heart of any distributed generation model is reliable and resilient locally produced electricity. Developing the optimum platform for DG power generation - a platform that is acceptable to the utilities and to regulators - is of paramount importance for commercialization and marketplace acceptance. To that end, DERP TECH and the HyPer Lab at NETL in Morgantown WV (through a CRADA relationship) are designing and testing models for Advanced Hybrid Power Systems that incorporate both fossil fuels (natural gas turbines) and non-fossil fuel sources (including PV solar). And central to their work is examining the gamechanging role that solid oxide fuel cells can play in the mix, in terms of a cleaner footprint and creating a far more responsive and reflexive local power supply, one that can react quickly to shifting loads and providing reliable power nearly instantaneously when there is a black-out or sustained grid power failure. Most significantly, research in the HyPer Lab at NETL has recently demonstrated that is a realistic objective to dramatically extend the useful life of utility-scale fuel cells -- from the current life expectancy of 2 years to perhaps 10 or even up to 14 years IF and ONLY IF the fuel cell is used in the Hybrid Power Generation Configuration being worked on at the Lab AND if the correct Advanced Power Controls are developed to balance and optimize the power capabilities of all of the Hybrid Power Plant components. The Hybrid Power Generation method at the NETL HyPer Lab makes dynamic use of the coupling of an electrochemical device with a heat engine, or more specifically, a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) and a gas turbine. According to NETL findings, the synergies associated with coupling these systems in a hybrid configuration provide the potential "for reaching the highest possible electrical conversion efficiency ever realized." This capability could be "transformative" and meet the broadest goals set by the Department of Energy (DoE) for reliable and abundant electricity. Furthermore, DERP TECH and NETL have agreed that the Hybrid Power Generation configuration can be the optimum foundation for utility-scale DG power production, both for civilian and for military use because it also holds much promise for microgrid power generation - to provide base-load power when the main power grid fails . Because of this viewpoint, the two parties decided to present the HEP/DG PCU (and a related technology, the HEP/DG Power Protector) at the recent Defense Innovation Challenge (also hosted by TechConnect) in Austin, Texas. One of the flyers from that event - for the Advanced Power Control dubbed the HEP/DG (Hybrid Electric Power / Distributed Generation) is attached, as well as a research paper (by Tucker. et. al.) as presented in The Electrochemical Society Interface Journal (2009).