San Jose, California (PRWEB) October 12, 2012
Follow us on LinkedIn ? The ever-growing demand for energy from an increasingly populated and industrialized world is fuelling the need for next generation technologies that efficiently generate power with minimal ecological impact. Fuel Cell technology is at the forefront in this quest for clean energy amidst an era of depleting reserves of fossil fuels and rising per capita consumption of energy. Joint R&D initiatives undertaken by research institutions, private players and Government bodies such as US? SECA, Europe?s FCH JU and Japan?s NEDO are beginning to bear fruit with several fuel cell technologies transitioning from the prototype stage into the commercialization phase. Fuel cell shipments scaled new heights in all major geographies in recent years in terms of power capacities and volumes, with portable units making up the bulk of the application segments.
Solid oxide fuel cells are competing with other fuel cell technologies such as PEMFC, MCFC, DMFC and AFC, to carve out a niche for itself in the stationary, transport and portable applications markets. Despite high operating temperatures and intolerance to sulfur, SOFCs have the upper-edge over peer technologies due to their relatively high power generation efficiency and fuel-flexibility. Moreover, SOFCs are scalable, modular, grid-independent, and compatible with diesel generators, ultra-capacitors, batteries and wind and solar turbines. Touted as the energy technology of the future, SOFC technology has overcome initial setbacks, and is on the verge of commercialization and large scale production. As the case with other fuel cell technologies, SOFC companies are heavily dependent on Government subsidies for viability. While technological advancements are propelling the market towards commercialization at a breathtaking pace, visibility among consumers is a key aspect for the mainstream growth of the market.
Stationary power generation plants represent the largest application area for SOFCs, due to their ability to operate in high temperatures, with generators, APUs, remote power units and CPUs together making up more than two-thirds of the end-use market for SOFCs. The US, the UK and South Korea are following in the footsteps of pioneers, Germany, Japan and Denmark, in adopting fuel cell based residential CHPs.
Demand for residential micro-CHPs surged in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear incident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, strongly supported by Government incentives offered through the NEDO and ENE-FARM initiatives. A substantial increase in subsidies and increasing scales of economies are expected to coax manufacturers to shift from batch-production to continuous production mode in the near term. The FCH JU is gearing up to launch a 5-year Europe-wide project christened ?ene.field? along the lines of Japan? successful ENE-FARM venture. However, global economic uncertainty is slowing the expansion of the micro-CHP market, particularly in Europe, where austerity measures are forcing legislators to axe subsidies for the fuel cell development. Economies of scale and technology-driven cost savings are boosting the adoption of natural gas-fired SOFCs for large-scale captive stationary power generation centers for industrial plants, as well as on-site, grid-independent, distributed power sources in the range of 100kW for web-server farms.
Emission-and noise-free SOFC technology is also going mobile, powering forklifts operating in closed environments, as well as hybrid vehicles public-sector buses and cabin equipment in long-haul trucks. While technical difficulties involved in setting up nationwide hydrogen fuel networks are hindering the spread of PEMFCs in the lucrative automotive sector, SOFCs offer a feasible alternative as the units are capable of operating on hydrogen reformed from a plethora of sources including readily-available hydrocarbon fuels, as well as biofuels. Novel research initiatives are also laying the foundation for new SOFC designs employing nano-structure electrodes and high-conductance electrolytes to operate at temperatures as low as 350