Could Fuel Cells Solve the Emissions Problem for Coal Plants?

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Could Fuel Cells Solve the Emissions Problem for Coal Plants?

September 8, 2015

With a little extra engineering work, some researchers believe fuel cells could become one of the most affordable ways for coal plants to keep their doors open as pollution regulations tighten.

The Department of Energy selected FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCE) last week as one of eight funding recipients to pilot low-cost carbon dioxide capture and compression technologies. The $23.7 million project (with $15 million coming from the DOE and $8.7 million from FCE) will see a 2-megawatt fuel cell deployed at a coal-fired power plant designed to capture about 60 tons of CO2 per day, while simultaneously producing about 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.

This first-of-its-kind application is a modification to FCE’s existing Direct FuelCell technology, which the company says has already generated more than 4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. Researchers have been exploring the use of fuel cells for carbon capture since the early 1990s, but only recently has the technology declined enough in cost to be seriously considered as a solution.

Carbon capture only works with a molten carbonate fuel cell, a chemistry that relies on CO2 to operate. Flue gas from a coal plant contains 5 percent to 15 percent CO2, with the remainder made up largely of nitrogen, as well as other gases. In FCE’s application, the flue gas is routed into the fuel cell at one electrode, where the cell selectively takes up the CO2 and releases it in a concentrated stream at the other electrode. During this process, approximately 70 percent of the smog-producing nitrogen oxide is destroyed.

Once the CO2 is captured, it’s cooled and compressed utilizing standard refrigeration equipment. The purified carbon can then be sequestered or used for enhanced oil recovery.

SOURCE:  GreenTech efficiency

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