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Fuel Cell Research and Development

Fuel Cell Power Systems

As a world leader in the design and manufacture of power generation equipment and technology, Cummins Power Generation (CPG) is working today to develop fuel cell technology for tomorrow. CPG’s history with fuel cells began in the 1960s, but was renewed through our association with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program in 2001.

The SECA program work was performed under a cooperative development contract with the DOE National Energy Technology Lab (NETL). In addition, the DOE’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) supports an ongoing cooperative development of a diesel fueled Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) based truck APU at CPG’s R & D facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Interest in fuel cells has been growing steadily with the realization that new answers are needed to questions of how to provide the electrical energy needed to support a growing global economy, with less environmental impact and more efficient use of vital energy resources. Fuel cells will be part of the answer to those questions.

Fuel cell power systems can provide virtually silent power with lower fuel consumption and exhaust emissions than other technologies. The challenges facing us today are the fuel cell system’s higher initial cost and evolving durability and reliability. Cost, durability, and reliability are the primary focus of CPG’s R & D activities.

At a high level, many fuel cells share common system architecture (below). At the core of the system there is a fuel cell stack. Streams of fuel and air are supplied to the stack. The fuel stream may be pure or dilute hydrogen gas or a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide created by a fuel reformer from a primary fuel stream. In the stack, oxygen from the air reacts with the fuel to produce DC voltage and current. The fuel constituents are oxidized and exhausted from the stack as water (H2 + O = H2O) and carbon dioxide ( CO + O = CO2). Heat rejected from the stack can be a useable source of energy in combined heat and power (CHP) applications. The DC power produced by the stack is conditioned in a power output stage to either a regulated DC voltage or inverted to AC power, as desired. In many cases, fuel cells will be paralleled with batteries on the DC bus to enhance transient power response and system efficiency. Additional information on fuel cell technology and operation can be found here.

PEM Fuel Cell

Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which require virtually pure hydrogen as their fuel input, will provide power solutions where hydrogen infrastructure is developed and where uses are intermittent and mobile, for example passenger cars in major urban areas. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC), which can operate on a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide (often referred to as "syngas"), are more compatible with existing fuel infrastructures, including natural gas, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG or propane), gasoline, and diesel, as well as newly emerging renewably based biofuels such as E85, biodiesel, and hydrogen.

Since the evolution of fuel cell technology is dynamic, CPG maintains linkages to fuel cell stack developers working in both PEM and SOFC technology. Our current R & D focus is on SOFC technology because of its potential to be cost effective and operate cleanly and efficiently on existing hydrocarbon fuels – as well as hydrogen as it becomes more widely available. Potential applications where available hydrocarbon fuels are preferred include stationary commercial power, mobile electrical power for utility work trucks, over the road trucks, and larger boats.

Ongoing design and development efforts at CPG are concentrated on the goal of commercializing SOFC technology and the vision of a new family of power generation products demonstrating superior value for our customers. CPG works closely with leading stack development companies who can potentially supply fuel cell stacks as a component for fuel cell systems. CPG is focused on the development of fuel and air delivery systems, control electronics, power conditioning electronics, and thermal and mechanical systems integration.

Hybrid Fuel Cell

The result is a packaged SOFC power system configured to directly replace its Diesel powered predecessor. In fact, recent developments in advanced RV power systems resulting in the new Onan Hybrid Quiet Diesel™ have paved the way for a seamless transition to fuel cell generation.

Cost reduction is major emphasis

A key objective of CPG’s fuel cell development is reducing the manufacturing costs of SOFC power systems to levels required to make inroads in potential markets. Developments in fuel cell stack technology are producing impressive reductions in estimated stack costs in production volumes, but effort remains in identifying cost effective complete system solutions and in solving the cost-volume paradox: if fuel cells can be produced in volume, current projections indicate favorable costs, but until production volumes ramp up, higher costs will limit acceptance to early adopter or subsidized markets and result in a slow market penetration.

Key to the SOFC power system will be Versa Power System’s high performance planar SOFC stacks. This technology combines state–of–the–art SOFC materials with cost effective ceramic fabrication techniques used in the microelectronics industry. The cells are produced using traditional tape casting, sizing, screen printing, and co–firing operations. Interconnects are low–cost metallic components. The cell and stack design includes advanced proprietary VPS technology which has demonstrated excellent stability and resistance to degradation. The benefit of this approach will be the development of high–volume, low–cost manufacturing of standardized high–performance SOFC stacks.

SOFC technology is environmentally friendly and highly social

A major advantage of SOFC technology is that it facilitates the clean and environmentally friendly use of commonly available fossil fuels such as natural gas, LP, gasoline, and diesel fuel to develop electrical power efficiently and with extremely low emissions. Fuel cells produce electrical power by oxidizing reformed fuel within a special ceramic substrate to produce direct-current electricity. The only by-products are water vapor and a small amount of carbon dioxide.

As a hydrogen infrastructure develops, SOFCs will become even more efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly. Operation on hydrogen eliminates the need for fuel reforming, improves the system efficiency, and means the only exhaust product resulting from operation will be water vapor.

Even the best engine driven generator sets produce a characteristic sound that's unwelcome in many noise sensitive areas, such as campgrounds and residential neighborhoods. SOFC power systems demonstrate the potential for generating highly sociable power that's clean, and not heard.

Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) Program

Testing of the Phase I prototype is nearing completion in Cummins’ Fridley, Minnesota Technical Center. The unit has completed over 1500 hours of testing, producing 3 kilowatts of electrical power while operating on commercial pipeline natural gas. Performance has met expectations and the system reliability has been exceptional. Upon completion of the Phase I test, marked by the peak power test in early January 2007, Cummins and Versa Power expect to transition into Phase II.

SOFC Power System

From early 2002 until its culmination in 2007, Cummins participated in the DOE’s SECA program for development of cost effective SOFC power systems. In 2007, Cummins, in cooperation with Versa Power Systems, successfully demonstrated a 6 kW SOFC power system that met all the goals of the SECA Phase 1 program. These goals included durability, reliability, efficiency, and meeting targeted manufacturing cost estimates. The prototype unit ran flawlessly for over 2000 hours in CPG’s test facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The SECA program was cost shared under a Cooperative Development Agreement with the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (

SOFC APU Program

In addition to our SECA program, CPG was awarded a contract under the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office to develop and demonstrate a prototype SOFC auxiliary power unit for heavy-duty trucks. This new application of fuel cell technology could sharply reduce engine idling time for America's 458,000 long-haul trucks, shrinking the trucking industry's fuel consumption while creating virtually no pollutants.

Trucking industry sources estimate that heavy trucks (Class 7 and Class 8) spend an average of six hours per day idling, primarily to keep engines warm and truck cabs warm or cool for driver comfort. These idling engines consume 840 million gallons of diesel fuel annually, creating an enormous opportunity for fuel savings. The SOFC-based auxiliary power units developed by CPG will operate on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD), which became nationally available in 2006.

Ongoing Cooperation with DOE

Cummins maintains an active dialog and collaboration with the Department of Energy focused on opportunities for the cooperative development of new power generation technology that will benefit the United States through lower emissions and reduced reliance on imported fuel, and for our customers through power generation solutions that are cleaner, lower cost, and higher reliability.

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