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Fuel Cells Could Be a "Game-Changer" for Carbon Capture

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Fuel Cells Could Be a Game-Changer for Carbon Capture

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Fuel Cells Could Be a Game-Changer for


Carbon Capture
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Fuel cells powered by natural gas, biogas, and hydrogen are a rapidly expanding option for
distributed generation, with fuel cellbased power plants being deployed in capacities into
tens of megawatts. But as the technology improves and costs begin to scale, opportunities for
other applications are being explored.
One such application may even go beyond power generation. Danbury, Conn.based FuelCell
Energy (FCE), one of the largest suppliers of fuel cells worldwide, and ExxonMobil announced
(http://fcel.client.shareholder.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=969386) a partnership on
May 5 to explore the possibilities for using fuel cells for carbon capture.

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5/12/2016

Fuel Cells Could Be a "Game-Changer" for Carbon Capture

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Fuel Cells Using Flue Gas


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According to Kurt Goddard, FCEs vice president of investor relations, the application will
depart from the traditional method of powering the fuel cells with ambient air and methane.
What we found is there is a unique side reaction and benefit of our standard typical fuel cell,

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and instead of ambient air, we can bring in the flue gas from a coal plant or gas plant, and we
can concentrate the CO2 that is coming in.

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Normally in FCEs carbonate fuel cells, methane is reformed in the cell anode to create CO2
and H2, which is then used to generate electricity by combining with oxygen from ambient air

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to create an electric current and exhaust streams of water vapor and CO2. The carbon-capture

fuel cell will still be powered by methane, but by using flue gas instead of ambient air, the
chemical reactions in the cell can concentrate up to 90% of the incoming CO2, which flows with

Business Development Manager, GTS Bolttech Mannings, Inc. - North

the CO2 generated in the reforming process into the normal exhaust stream, where it can

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easily be separated from the water vapor.

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A critical differenceand bonusin this process is that rather than being a parasitic drain on

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the plant, it actually generates additional power (Figure 1). According to FCE, the power
output is larger than the parasitic drain from conventional carbon-capture technologies.

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(http://cdn.powermag.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/module-lineup-shadow-edit.jpg)
1. Fuel cells powered by natural gas could potentially function as carbon capture technology by using power plant flue gas instead
of ambient air. Courtesy: FuelCell Energy

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In addition, Goddard said, We can destroy roughly two-thirds of the NOx in the flue gas.
How much CO2 can be captured depends on how many fuel cells are employed, as each can
handle only a certain amount of flue gas. A typical 500-MW combined cycle plant would need
around 120 MW of fuel cells to achieve 90% capture, Goddard said, while an equivalent coal
plant might need around 400 MW of fuel cells because of its lower efficiency.

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You can add a couple over time and do it in increments. You do not have to do it all at once.

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Fuel Cells Could Be a "Game-Changer" for Carbon Capture

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Commercial deployment is still years away, but representatives from both companies are

Possible Falsified Documents

optimistic about the potential, which Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and

(http://www.powermag.com/areva-

development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering called a game changer for carboncapture technology.

admits-to-irregularities-in-hundreds-ofnuclear-plant-components-possiblefalsified-documents/)
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Efforts to deploy carbon-capture at grid scale have run into serious problems with CO2

plant/)

capture performance and costs. The only operational utility-scale facility, SaskPowers

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Boundary Dam Project in Canada (http://www.powermag.com/saskpowers-boundary-dam-

to Final Coal Ash Rule

carbon-capture-project-wins-powers-highest-award/), suffered from substantial operational

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problems its first year of operation, though it has recently seen more success

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(http://www.powermag.com/saskpower-carbon-capture-facility-operating-more-reliably/).
Southern Co.s Kemper County project in Mississippi has been plagued with delays and huge
cost overruns (http://www.powermag.com/kemper-county-igcc-costs-rise-and-delays-loomagain/) that most recently have drawn attention from the Securities and Exchange
Commission (http://www.powermag.com/southern-co-kemper-igcc-delays-cost-surges-areunder-sec-scrutiny/).
Other projects, such as NRGs retrofit project at the W.A. Parish plant
(http://www.powermag.com/commercial-scale-carbon-capture-project-starts-construction-intexas/) near Houston and the proposed Texas Clean Energy Project
(http://www.powermag.com/is-polygeneration-the-future-for-clean-coal/) near Midland, have
faced criticism that their reliance on enhanced oil recovery negates climate benefits of carbon
capture (http://www.powermag.com/is-eor-a-dead-end-for-carbon-capture/). No matter the
approach, all current carbon-capture technologies suffer from substantially increased costs of

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generation and reduced net power output.


The possibilities of employing fuel cells to reduce power plant emissions for both coal plants
(http://www.powermag.com/is-a-new-hybrid-system-the-cure-for-coal-powers-ills/) and
natural-gas combined cycle plants (http://www.powermag.com/next-generation-of-gas-firedpower-starts-to-take-shape/), and potentially capture CO2 have drawn research attention in
recent years, though applications have typically involved placing the fuel cells in front of the

POWER magazine Retweeted


Tom Overton
@thomas_overton
Fuel Cells Could Be a "Game-Changer" for
Carbon Capture powermag.com/fuel-cells-cou
10h

turbines or replacing typical combustion processes altogether. The FCE-ExxonMobil initiative


is among the first to look at placing the fuel cells after combustion.
POWER magazine Retweeted
Sonal Patel

ExxonMobil began working with FCE on this project several years ago, Goddard said,
beginning with informal discussions that led to more formal testing. With the potential now

@Sonalcpatel
In new #IEO2016 international outlook,
@EIAgov expects softened power demand

clear, the two companies have gone public with the initiative. The partnership will focus
initially on how to further increase efficiency in separation and concentration of the CO2 from
gas turbine exhaust. That is expected to take one to two years.

despite economic growth worldwide.


ow.ly/KX3B30074n1
Embed

View on Twitter

Goddard said FCE and ExxonMobil scientists will be working to better understand the
chemical processes that are taking place and how they respond to different compositions of
flue gas. Assuming success, the second phase will move to a small-scale pilot project for
additional testing, then integration into a larger-scale pilot facility.
Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

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