As we move into a carbon-constrained future, any technology that maintains industrial growth and enhances the sustainable development of Canada’s economy, while simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint, is of very high strategic importance. Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology, which involves the highly efficient and clean conversion of the chemical energy of a wide variety of Canada’s fuels to electrical energy, can meet this challenge. However, a number of technical barriers are still holding back full commercialization of SOFCs:
The Network is a subset of the larger umbrella SOFC Canada organization, formed in 2006. The membership of SOFC Canada includes representatives from universities, industries and government. The Network itself consists of 21 research groups from seven universities (Alberta, Calgary, McMaster, Queen’s, Toronto, Sherbrooke and Waterloo) as well as the National Research Council (IFCI and ICPET) and the Alberta Research Council. Private sector partners include Acumentrics, ATCO Gas, Enerken, Global Thermoelectric, Northwest Mettech, NOVA Chemicals, PC Automax, Polycontrols Technologies, Shell Canada Energy, Vale Inco and Xebec. The management structure of the SOFC Network consists of a Board, a Network Technical Committee, a Technology Transfer/Commercialization Committee and a Manager.
The technical goals of the SOFC Network are to use Canada’s fuels cleanly by improving the lifetime, performance, manufacturability and fuel flexibility of two next-generation “Made in Canada” SOFC technologies. These include a highly durable low-temperature, metal-supported planar system developed by the National Research Council of Canada and a robust, high performance, anode-supported microtubular SOFC platform developed by the Alberta Research Council. The research activities of the SOFC Network are organized thematically, as follows:
Theme 1 - Fuel Processing: Current SOFC technologies are limited to the use of highly reformed, sulfur-scrubbed natural gas, while diesel fuel requires efficient, low-cost diesel reformers for integration. Novel fuel processing and microchannel reactor technology will be developed to optimize the efficiency of fuel conversion and minimize long-term degradation issues related to high temperature sintering, coking and sulfur poisoning of the reformer catalyst.
Theme 2 - Sulfur/Coke Tolerant Anodes: External reformers/sulfur scrubbers escalate cost and lower efficiency due to their additional energy requirements, especially if low sulfur levels are demanded. This research will develop transformative SOFC fuel oxidation (anode) catalysts that will operate efficiently in the presence of high levels of sulfur, lowering cost/complexity and increasing overall efficiency of the SOFC platform. Modelling research will also determine the mechanism of sulfur and coke poisoning, thus facilitating the experimental optimization of anode catalyst microstructures and materials.
Theme 3 - Cell Fabrication: Researchers will develop cost effective and durable cell manufacturing techniques that are amenable to Theme 1 fuel properties, Theme 2 anode materials and Theme 4 stack requirements. Development of novel metal-supported planar cells, using new processing techniques, will lower system costs and enhance durability, while a porous electrolyte-supported microtubular system will overcome current problems of dimensional change and allow much greater fuel flexibility.
Theme 4 - Stack/System Integration: The results from Themes 1-3 will be integrated into the two SOFC platforms. Innovative power converter technologies will be developed to improve efficiency, long-term stability and optimize functionality of SOFC systems.
The vision of SOFC Canada, as a whole, is to “foster the coordination and to ensure the sustainable funding of research, development and commercialization of SOFCs and related technologies in Canada to create products that serve the world”. The SOFC Canada program identifies four main thrusts: i) Fundamental R&D, being accomplished by the SOFC Network and focused on improving the two “Made in Canada” SOFC technologies with concomitant cost reduction; ii) Technology development and product prototyping in collaboration with industry partners; iii) Field trials; and iv) Delivery of commercial products for market entry. Collaborations that are in place with Canadian fuel cell and related companies will foster the development of the supply chain needed to retain Canadian leadership in the fuel cell industry. Overall, economic activity in Canada will be improved through new products, more efficient use of Canada’s carbon-based resources and sustainable job creation through this addition of an SOFC industry to the energy sector of the Canadian economy.