The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has created a solid oxide fuel cell system that is small enough for domestic homeowners and affordable for the average citizen. There are currently multiple green ways to power your home (such as solar power and wind turbines), but fuel cell technology offers an emission-free source of on-demand power for days when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind isn’t blowing.
Up until now, the main thing holding back the rapid adoption of fuel cell technology is cost. There are fuel cell systems already available for homes, but their sheer expense has meant they are only suitable for the super-rich. The PNNL believes that they have created a solid oxide fuel cell system that can meet the demands of homeowners while still maintaining low costs.
“Solid oxide fuels cells are a promising technology for providing clean, efficient energy. But, until now, most people have focused on larger systems that produce 1 megawatt of power or more and can replace traditional power plants,” said Vincent Sprenkle, chief engineer of PNNL’s solid oxide fuel cell development program. “However, this research shows that smaller solid oxide fuel cells that generate between 1 and 100 kilowatts of power are a viable option for highly efficient, localized power generation.”
If what the PNNL reports is true, then it is quite a milestone for home energy systems. The research team say their small-scale solid oxide fuel cell system has been designed specifically to meet the demand for smaller, more affordable energy systems for homes. Already past the test stage, the system has also reportedly achieved a record-breaking 57% efficiency.
Considering the size of the system, this is incredibly impressive. The only drawback is that it is powered by natural gas (although it produces hydrogen and electricity instead of carbon emissions). The researchers plan to continue improving their system to make it more steamlined and efficient.
As part of the Department of Energy, PNNL is receiving support for its project and hopefully, if the system proves itself to be viable, homeowners will soon be able to set up fuel cell power systems as part of their home. It will also help to diversify domestic energy markets, which will stop certain fuel companies from maintaining a monopoly.
Images: james.thompson, PNNL