Fuel Cells, Home Generation, and Smart Grids, the Perfect Marriage

Sofcpower hopes to use their fuel cell technology to bring major advances to the world’s aging electrical grids and home heating systems. Currently in prototype, the EnGen 500 has two models which are about the size of a home water heater and can produce 500W or 1000W respectively.

A Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) converts the chemical potential of natural gas (and other gaseous fuels) into electric power. The SOFC usually consists of a zirconium or cerium oxide electrolyte. The fuel is consumed at the anode thanks to the air accessed at the cathode.

Fuel Cells have operation temperatures around 600 ͦC to 1000 ͦC (1100 ͦF to 1800 ͦF). This hot temperature ensures that no catalyst is needed; various fuels can be used (biogas, landfill gas, syngas); and that the exhaust is ideal for cogeneration at home or a generation plant.

From an environmental standpoint, the only emissions are water and carbon dioxide; while typical emissions from combustion-type generation like NOx, SOx, and VOC emissions are eliminated.

All of which sounds perfect for smart grid technology.

Smart grids work a little bit like the internet. The grid routes the energy to the destination along the most efficient path at any given moment. This means that in the case of a cascading outage, like the one seen in 2003, the lights will still run along most of the grid.

Sofcpower claims they can produce energy at grid parity costs once they start mass production. They also state that due to the high efficiency and energy savings, the system does not need any outside funding. This is an impressive claim.

Further, Sofcpower’s Fuel Cells have been known to have electrical efficiencies of 60% and as high as 90% when in cogeneration mode! This is no competition to traditional generation in Europe at 35% efficiency.

For the sake of efficiency, smart grids must be designed to access energy from the most effective source at the time. For the sake of the environment, the grid must also be accessible to all power sources, prioritizing renewable sources and local generation. While from an economic standpoint, the supply must also be secure, reliable and cost effective.

It seems to me then that with the right planning and engineering, smart grid technology and fuel cells will be able to improve our aging grid. I just hope it takes effect before another great blackout like the one in 2003.

Image courtesy of Sofcpower.

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at Engineering.com, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.