This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

June 25, 2014

ARPA-E Awards $33 Million for New Fuel Cell Projects

The Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on June 19 announced $33 million in funding for 13 new projects aimed at developing transformational fuel cell technologies for low-cost distributed power generation. The projects, funded through ARPA-E’s new Reliable Electricity Based on Electrochemical Systems (REBELS) program, will focus on improving grid stability, balancing intermittent renewable technologies, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions using electrochemical distributed power generation systems.

Fuel cells—devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel source into electrical energy—are optimal as distributed power generation systems, which generate power close to where it is used. Distributed generation systems offer an alternative to large, centralized power plants. Current, state-of-the-art fuel cell research generally focuses on technologies that either operate at high temperatures for grid-scale applications or at low temperatures for vehicle technologies. In contrast, ARPA-E’s new REBELS projects will focus on low-cost Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cells (ITFCs), emphasizing three technical approaches.

The first approach will deliver efficient, reliable ITFCs made from low-cost materials and system components for use in distributed generation systems. For example, SAFCell of Pasadena, California, will develop low-cost, solid-acid fuel cells by reducing the amount of precious metals in the electrodes and developing new catalysts based on carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. The second approach in REBELS integrates both ITFCs and electricity storage at the device‐level rather than system‐level, enabling a battery-like response to transient power loads. For example, a University of South Carolina project team from Columbia, South Carolina, will develop a ceramic-based fuel cell that will both generate and store electrical power with high efficiencies by incorporating a newly discovered ceramic electrolyte and nanostructured electrodes in one device to enable low-temperature operation. The third category develops ITFCs that also convert methane or other gaseous hydrocarbons into liquid fuels using excess energy. For example, Materials & Systems Research, Inc. from Salt Lake City, Utah, will electrochemically convert natural gas into electricity or liquid fuel in a single step by using catalysts more effectively and reduce fabrication costs by using a cost-effective process that can be readily scaled up for mass production. See the Energy Department news release and the complete list of projectsPDF.