ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Ceramic Energy News, December 2004

From fuel cell events to ongoing research and new technologies, a lot is happening in the field of energy applications for ceramic products and materials. Following are some of the most recent news items associated with this segment of the industry.

2004 Fuel Cell Seminar Explores SOFC Research and Development Issues

Over 2000 people representing more than 30 different countries attended the 2004 Fuel Cell Seminar in San Antonio, Texas, November 1-5. Participants included technical leaders, scientists, educators, researchers, developers, investors, students and manufacturers of fuel cell products.

Among the nearly 160 exhibitors at the seminar were numerous companies with materials, components, equipment and services relating to solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). These included Blue Marlin Performance Materials (a division of ZIRCAR Ceramics, Inc.), Deltech, Inc., H.C. Starck, Heraeus Inc.'s Circuit Materials Division, Micromeritics Instrument Corp., Nabertherm, Inc., NexTech Materials., Ltd. (see related item below), Praxair Specialty Ceramics, Quantachrome Instruments, Thermal Ceramics, ZIRCAR Refractory Composites, Inc. (ZRCI) and Zircar Zirconia, Inc.

Sessions on SOFC research and development highlighted some of the recent advances, as well as some remaining challenges to SOFC commercialization. For example, microporous insulation has been shown to provide good thermal and structural stability, stack compatibility, cost efficiency and other performance benefits in SOFC applications, according to M.D. Mortimer of Microtherm Insulation Ltd., Wirral, UK. S. Lasher of TIAX LLC, Cambridge, Mass., noted that SOFC-based auxiliary power units (APUs) could potentially be used for heavy-duty long-haul trucks-particularly when combined with small internal combustion engines (ICEs) in a "hybrid" system. However, T.A. Cruse of Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill., explained that chromium poisoning of the cathode, and resulting declines in cell performance, is a common problem in many SOFCs. Additionally, J.H. Thijssen of J. Thijssen, LLC, Redmond, Wash., noted that more emphasis in needed on the development of scaled-up planar anode-supported SOFCs before practical systems for stationary distributed generation in the 250 kW to 10 MW range will be competitive with existing power generation technologies. Other SOFC papers discussed activities at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a residential combined heat and power (CHP) system developed by Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd., mono-block layer built (MOLB)-type SOFCs and modules, the development of SOFC power systems using multi-layer ceramic interconnects, and intermediate temperature SOFC modules and systems.

For more information about the Fuel Cell Seminar, e-mail or visit .

Other Related Websites:
Blue Marlin Performance Materials -
Deltech, Inc. -
H.C. Starck -
Heraeus Inc.'s Circuit Materials Division -
Micromeritics Instrument Corp. -
Nabertherm, Inc. -
NexTech Materials., Ltd. -
Praxair Specialty Ceramics -
Quantachrome Instruments -
Thermal Ceramics -
ZIRCAR Refractory Composites, Inc. (ZRCI) -
Zircar Zirconia, Inc. -

NexTech Materials Develops Advanced Electrolyte-Supported SOFC

NexTech Materials, Ltd. has introduced a new advanced electrolyte-supported planar cell called NextCellTM for use in solid oxide fuel cell demonstrations, prototyping, research and benchmarking. The cells reportedly have dramatically improved strength and higher performance compared to traditional electrolyte-supported cells.

NextCell uses the patent-pending Hionic™ electrolyte support that is manufactured using proprietary fabrication methods and materials. According to NexTech, the Hionic support is more than four times stronger than the most popular fully stabilized YSZ-8 material, with conductivity surpassing that of YSZ-8. Improved mechanical flexibility makes the cells less brittle and therefore more forgiving during operations such as testing and stack assembly. The first NextCell cells are designed to operate at temperatures above 800°C and have a demonstrated area specific resistance (ASR) of 0.52 oms-cm2.

"The NextCell design will serve as the platform for future developments that include further reducing ASR, particularly at lower operating temperatures, and incorporating sulfur tolerant anodes," said Matthew Seabaugh, NexTech's Fuel Cell Group Leader. "Such developments will enhance the reliability and performance of SOFCs operating on conventional fossil fuels and renewable hydrocarbons."

For additional information, call (614) 842-6606 or visit .

Blasch Receives DOE SBIR Phase II Grant

Blasch Precision Ceramics, Inc., an Albany-based ceramic technology manufacturer, recently received notification of an $800,000, two-year Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase II award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for slag-resistant refractory materials for coal gasification systems.

Gasification technology is a method to use coal as the fuel for efficient generation of electric power and synthetic gases. High temperature, slagging gasifiers have refractory liners that deteriorate rapidly and have a relatively short life, requiring considerable, costly maintenance. Additionally, the refractories typically used in slagging gasifiers contain chrome oxide, which is cause for health and environmental concern due to the potential of carcinogenic hexavalent chrome formation during use.

In Phase I, initial feasibility was demonstrated for the development of an economical, advanced refractory ceramic material for coal-fed slagging gasifiers. A team of engineers, headed by Blasch's product development manager, David Larsen, formulated over 25 ceramic material compositions, formed specimens and tested their performance, including strength, density, porosity and static slag corrosion resistance. Three of these compositions met all technical/economical objectives, including: containing no chrome/chrome oxide, good lab-scale shape formability, reasonable strength, adequate static slag corrosion resistance, and a preliminary cost estimated to be less than 50% of the current gasifier refractory. Eastman Chemical Co., who owns and operates two coal-fed gasifiers, and the University of North Dakota - Energy and Environmental Research Center, who have extensive slag corrosion testing expertise, participated in Phase I and will also participate in Phase II. Other participating subcontractors in the Phase II project are Tampa Electric Co. and Starfire Systems.

In Phase II, proposed developments including the ceramic composition data, small scale process techniques, and test results derived from Phase I be used as a basis for further ceramic material development/optimization, upscale process techniques, rigorous testing, and potential trial in a gasifier. The additional testing will include dynamic slag corrosion testing such as drip slag and rotary slag tests in various atmospheres to accurately simulate the operating conditions of a coal-fed gasifier. Also, assuming positive test results, full size ceramic shapes will be produced for potential trial in a full-size gasifier.

The commercial applications for economical advanced refractory materials that contain no chrome oxide and provide excellent high temperature corrosion resistance include refractory lining applications in solid feed gasifiers, as well as molten metal (e.g., stainless steel) furnaces that yield slags, and also chemical reactors that produce corrosive chemicals. The benefits of the new refractory could lead to wider use of gasification technology, which would result in greater use of abundant coal and less dependence on foreign oil supplies.

For more information, call (518) 436-1263 or visit . More information about DOE SBIR grants can be found at .

Stark State College Breaks Ground for Fuel Cell Prototyping Center

Stark State College, with assistance from U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, broke ground in October on a $4.4 million Fuel Cell Prototyping Center in Canton, Ohio, that will support the research, development and commercialization of fuel cells. Ohio Governor Bob Taft and U.S. Congressman Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), who have been instrumental in obtaining federal and state funding for the Center, were joined by other federal, state, local and College officials at the groundbreaking.

The college also received $780,000 from the National Science Foundation for a Fuel Cell Technology Curriculum Development Project, bringing total funding generated for fuel cell activity on the campus to more than $5.2 million.

The 23,000 sq. ft. Fuel Cell Prototyping Center, scheduled to open in October 2005, will function as a pre-production facility that will serve as a bridge between research and the marketplace.

These fuel cell initiatives are being developed at Stark State in partnership with the Wright Fuel Cell Group (WFCG), an education/business collaborative based at Case Western Reserve University, funded by Governor Taft's Third Frontier Program and formed to accelerate innovation and commercialization for the fuel cell industry across Ohio. One WFCG partner, Alliance-based SOFCo- EFS Holdings LLC, a division of BWXT that conducts research and development in solid oxide fuel cells, will be the center's first tenant. The center will enable SOFCo-EFS and other companies involved in fuel cell development to cost-effectively produce prototypes that will lead to successful production and commercialization of fuel cells. In the process, it will provide state-of-the-art laboratories for secondary and postsecondary students to learn first-hand the basics and advantages of emerging power technologies.

In addition to Case Western Reserve University, the other academic partners are Ohio State University, Cleveland State University and the University of Toledo. Secretary Abraham also announced over $5 million in hydrogen research grants to Ohio companies and universities while in Canton.

For more information, call 330-494-6170, ext. 4408, or visit or .

NanoDynamics Introduces Portable SOFC

NanoDynamicsTM, based in Buffalo, N.Y., recently introduced a new portable solid oxide fuel cell called RevolutionTM 50. The system has been designed for a range of applications, including combat soldier power, battery recharger systems, outdoor safety lighting and advertising, portable refrigeration systems as well as various other uses. It is microprocessor-controlled, offers rapid start-up times without external power and has internal reforming capabilities.

"For the past two years, the company has been working to create a powerful combination of nanomaterials and novel cell design to demonstrate the power of nanotechnology. The resulting fuel cell system is lightweight, portable, compact and can be operated using conventional hydrocarbon fuels, such as propane. The selective use of advanced nanotechnology and nanomaterials results in state-of-the-art power density and specific power output," said David Bothwell, director of NanoDynamics' ND EnergyTM.

For more information, contact ND EnergyTM at or visit .

New Zealand SOFC Field Trials Set to Begin in 2005

New Zealand's Powerco and Australia's Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited (CFCL) have signed an agreement to conduct trials of new solid oxide fuel cell energy systems in New Zealand. The systems, which were developed by CFCL, are combined heat and power units (micro-CHP) that convert natural gas to electricity, delivering both 1 kW of electricity and hot water sufficient for the average home.

"Powerco recognizes that this technology shows the potential of distributed generation around the world-electricity generated at the point of use rather than through centralized systems and extensive transmission networks," said Steven Boulton, chief executive officer of Powerco. Boulton also noted that Powerco is attracted to this particular fuel cell technology because it has flexibility in using natural gas, biomethane and ethanol as the primary input fuel, rather than being constrained with expensive hydrogen, as is the case with most fuel cells.

The micro-CHP units are expected to be extremely efficient. They convert gas to electricity in a silent process, unlike combustion engines, and they have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% over a conventional coal-fired power unit.

"CFCL's fuel cell units have the potential to provide efficient, reliable, constant and environmentally friendly ‘mini-generators' on site in homes, offices and farms, thereby reducing reliance on large, centralized electricity generators and transmission networks. They can be scaled up to suit a range of power outputs," said Allen Conduit, Ph.D., chief executive officer of CFCL. "When not using the full electrical output from the unit locally, power can be exported and sold back into the electricity grid. We are interested to test these prototypes in real life situations for their performance, efficiency and operations."

At this stage, Powerco and CFCL have committed to two 12-month New Zealand field trials for 2005, with the option to expand to four. CFCL has engaged New Zealand IRL (Industrial Research Ltd.) to assist with on site technical support. CFCL expects to deliver the first unit to New Zealand in April 2005. Powerco plans to establish a New Zealand-based university scholarship to evaluate the trial of the fuel cells.

For additional information, e-mail or visit .

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