CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: We’re at a turning point in energy. The U.S. should be a leader in mitigating climate change and meeting a nearly 30% increase in U.S. demand for electricity projected by 2040.
NanoConversion Technologies strives for economical micro-CHP. The technology employed by this startup is the alkali-metal thermal-to-electric converter (AMTEC), invented by Ford in the 1960s. (NanoConversion actually purchased the remnants of the Ford technology and is using some of that vintage equipment today.) The device takes 850°C heat as an input and produces direct current electrical power and thermal heating power at 200°C, at potentially high efficiencies of up to 30 percent, according to Staskus, and when using the heat, over 90 percent. Because it’s a closed system, the company claims that it is not subject to the fouling and reliability issues that can afflict fuel cells when contaminants in natural gas compromise the fuel-cell stack and “coke the anode.” Because it has no moving parts, it was targeted for 15-year deep space missions with plutonium as the heat source. The device makes use of a thermodynamic cycle of expanding and condensing sodium; the work generated by the expansion of sodium vapor is converted into electric power. Staskus likened it to a fuel cell where the fuel is burned outside of the unit, calling it “a fuel cell that doesn’t die.” This is how the company breaks down the device’s operation: Input heat vaporizes sodium Ion transport through BASE creates DC current The heat sink condenses sodium and delivers thermal power The electromagnetic pump returns sodium to the evaporator
The EU project SOFCOM is coordinated by Politecnico di Torino. The project developed a break-through solution to transform the organic waste collected in wastewater treatment plants into valuable energy products through the use of high-efficiency fuel cell technology.
A novel process has been designed, built and tested to produce electricity and heat from the biogas generated from the sludge that is fed to anaerobic digesters within the WWTP. Along with combined electricity and heat production (CHP), two additional products are generated: filtered water and clean CO2 that is recycled to grow algae so that the carbon that is originally contained in biogas is made available again as a fuel.
The prototype plant that demonstrates the feasibility of the SOFCOM concept has been presented today during the conference “Patrimonio idrico, risorse rinnovabili e ambiente. Il presente e il futuro della depurazione in Europa”, an event held in Torino and organized by SMAT Spa, which is partner of SOFCOM.
The prototype plant – Massimo Santarelli explains, Professor at the Department of Energy of Politecnico di Torino and project coordinator – “foresees an integrated poly-generating energy system that uses renewable fuels (digester gas from WWPT and bio-syngas from wood gasification) in high-efficiency fuel cell electrochemical generators that allows for the complete recovery and re-use of CO2 so to close the carbon cycle of the plant”.
The term SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cell) refers to the specific fuel cell technology exploited in the project. SOFC generators operate at around 800 °C and are in fact the most efficient fuel cell devices that can be directly fed with methane fuel, syngas or biogas (as in the case of SOFCOM).
The core component of the SOFCOM plant is the fuel cell stack reactor where biogas is transformed to electricity through efficient electrochemical reactions instead of combustion reactions that take place in less efficient internal combustion engines (ICEs). The overall fuel cell electrical efficiency is >50% when running on biogas and the only exhausts of the plant are pure CO2 and water. Compared to ICEs, the efficiency is 10-20 percentage points higher and with virtually zero emissions.