The Tekes Fuel Cell Programme at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is testing fuel cell unit modules from Lappeenranta University of Technology and Aalto University in Finland research. VTT has built a system that uses fuel cells to produce grid electricity from natural gas.

VTT Solid Oxide Fuel Cell. Click image for the largest view.

The Finland effort differs from the Bloom business in the U.S. by scale.  What makes the system unique is that the electric power produced comes from a single 10 kW planar SOFC (solid oxide fuel cell) stack. Constructing large SOFC power plants of the future will require high-power fuel cell stacks. This is the first time a 10 kW power class planar SOFC fuel stack is being operated as part of a complete fuel cell system.

The VTT press release explains, “The system is currently undergoing endurance testing to determine component reliability, durability and development needs. Some of the system’s components are prototypes developed at VTT that have not yet reached mass production. Since the beginning of November 2010 the system has completed more than 1,500 hours of reliable and continuous operation.”

SOFC fuel cell technology is an extremely low-emission energy source. SOFC technology can be used to utilize a wide range of different fuels, from methane aka natural gas up to complex alcohol vapors and liquid petroleum gas.  The fuel range includes biogas, which can be a set of chemicals that is normally difficult to exploit efficiently using other technologies.

The who’s who in the project is VTT as the coordinator, technical expertise from Lappeenranta University of Technology and Aalto University, joint funding by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation and some Finnish industrial companies.  The SOFC stack for the system was supplied by Versa Power Systems Inc. of Canada.

Development of the system’s power electronics, used in transforming direct current produced by the SOFC into alternating current suitable for the grid, was carried out at Lappeenranta University of Technology. Aalto University has participated in the unit’s mechanical design.

The VTT fuel cell also is operating as a test rig. Finnish companies are also involved in development and gathering of experience regarding the application of their own products to SOFC systems.  For example Wärtsilä Finland Oy, is exploiting experiences garnered under the research project in its own SOFC system development work.   Other unnamed firms are noted to be gathering working experience on the test system.

Meanwhile, the European-funded MC WAP research project of Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell (MCFC) to be eventually used as an alternative power supply for ships is even larger – rated at 250 kW. The MC WAP project has developed a molten carbon fuel cell, which uses hydrogen obtained from a system that converts diesel oil into a hydrogen-rich gas and air coming from the compressor of a microturbine. The reaction produces electricity and heat, without combustion.

EU's Molten Oxide Fuel Cell Test Rig. Click image for the largest view.

Here again the effort divided up the effort into parts.  The Fuel Processor Module and the Fuel Cells Module. The fuel cells module is a chemical plant. It is fed from one side by compressed air and from the other side by a gas called syngas (produced from diesel) by the fuel processor module. This gas is currently being tested in Germany, at the University of Freiberg. The chemical reaction between air and syngas then generates electricity.

The project wouldn’t power a ship’s propulsion; but it will be able to contribute to it.  At 250 kW it can power the essential systems on board, such as the control systems, communication, lighting and main auxiliary systems with extra left over.

The MC WAP project has developed the MCFC from a purely experimental prototype to today’s practical demonstrator. These run quite hot with very high operating temperatures (600°C and above) and most applications for this kind of fuel cell are limited to large, stationary power plants. The envisaged initial applications are associated with waste heat, industrial processing, and where steam turbines generate electricity.  They may well compete effectively with natural gas fired generating stations someday.

While the Finnish and EU projects are not touting efficiency ratings, fuel cells offer a better energy output than simple combustion.  A lot of money is getting poured in and working demonstrators offer engineers a solid test of ideas in working mode.  At this point it does seem likely industry will see product offerings soon.  The price of natural gas in the EU is far higher than in North America driving efforts there at a faster pace.

Where these two technologies go in the future points to small and mid-scale electrical power generation.  As production increases the cost of these kinds of fuel cells would come down.  For the solid oxide type more unit production, working experience and interest should push development of even smaller less costly systems.

With high temperatures comes a wide range of fuel source choices.  The future seems uncertain thus fuel versatility could be a prime consideration going forward offering another incentive for using fuel cells over combustion.

In Europe the fuel cell future is looking very good indeed.


4 Comments so far

  1. World Spinner on January 18, 2011 5:55 AM

    Solid Oxide and Molten Carbon Fuel Cells Take Another Step | New ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. Grant on January 23, 2011 12:28 PM

    found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  3. Salubrius on February 1, 2011 9:45 PM

    The article says “This is the first time a 10 kW power class planar SOFC fuel stack is being operated as part of a complete fuel cell system.”

    I think not. I believe that VERSA POWER has operated complete systems of 10 kW, and that several others may have also. These include Ceramic Fuel Cells, an Australian Company, Hexis Ltd has made fuel cells for single family houses or duplexes that provide heat and power, Delta makes an Auxiliary Power System intended for motor vehicles to serve their electrical loads, particularly while their gas or diesel engines are not running, and there may be others.

  4. Brian Westenhaus on February 2, 2011 10:30 AM

    That’s great to hear. Can you include some links? I’d like to check.


    (It might take a while to post them as the filter will hold the links up until I get by to moderate.)

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind