FuelCell Energy Inc.’s prototype of an electricity generator powered by coal is promising enough that federal taxpayers are anteing another $4.2 million to continue refining it to exploit one of America’s richest fossil fuels, authorities say.
FuelCell Energy said the U.S. Department of Energy pledged the funding, which combined with FuelCell and its partner’s $1.8 million investment match, to continue research and development on a fuel cell that runs off synthetic gas from coal to generate electricity.
Known as the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA), the project is a collaboration of DOE, private industry and academia, now into its third phase, officials said.
SECA’s goal is to develop solid oxide fuel cell power plants to efficiently and cleanly generate electricity from coal syngas on a scale large enough to satisfy the needs of thousands of homes and businesses.
FuelCell’s current technology relies on a chemical chain reaction using natural gas or other fuels to generate electricity and byproduct heat.
“We are making excellent progress towards commercial applications with leading edge solid oxide fuel cell technology for stationary applications,” said Tony Leo, FuelCell’s vice president for application engineering and advanced technology development.
In May 2011, FuelCell and its Colorado technology partner, Versa Power Systems Inc., got another $8.2 million toward the $11.7 million cost to construct a scalable 60-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell stack powered by gas synthesized from coal. FuelCell owns 39 percent of Versa.
FuelCell and Versa already have shown practical applications for their technology on a 25-kilowatt stack, FuelCell says. DOE picked up $21 million of the $30.2 million cost for that unit; the partners paid for the rest.