Natural Gas + Fuel Cell (SOFC) – Cheapest Route to Cleaner Electricity?

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 26 January, 2010
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Two researchers at MIT say they have what will be “the lowest price option” for power generation in the future if a carbon tax of about $10 per T of emitted CO2. (Source)

The duo – Thomas Adams and Paul Barton – have proposed a novel electricity generation process that combines natural gas and solid oxide fuel cells.

While the researchers claim that their idea could work also with pulverized coal, they feel using it for natuarl gas will produce the best results.

Their process contains a steam reformer that prepares the gas for use within the fuel cells. The reformer and water-gas shift reactor creates a fuel mix absent CO, thus avoiding the problems created by carbon deposition issues in SOFCs when CO is present. The CO2 that is generated will be “mostly pure”, according to the researchers and they also claim that it can be captured with very little energy penalty.

Simulation of their system has indicated that the lifecycle cost of this novel system is lower than that of a combined-cycle natural gas plant, even without carbon pricing. They say that even with a carbon tax around $5 to $10 per ton, their system would be cheaper than coal plants.

Now, the cost part of it we can safely ignore whatever the researchers say because real life is very different from lab simulations. But if the technology works smoothly, it could be great. As you will know, natural gas based power production emits much less CO2 per MWh when compared to coal and if the CO2 capture becomes cheaper and easier using an SOFC fuel cell with natural gas, so much the better!

Well, the one question is “what happens to the 50,000 power plants already existing?” Guess it is far fetched to assume that they will be delighted to shift fuel cell based power production from the current steam – turbine cycle they predominantly use. And imagine the capital costs for such migration.

The idea, if it works smooth and is techno-and-economically better off than other CCS ideas, could well get those developing new power plants mighty interested.

Fuel Cell

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