Almost a half of the world’s primary energy consumption is in the provision of electricity, heating and cooling. Most of this energy comes from centralised power stations where up to 70% of available energy is wasted. The inefficiency of this model is unacceptably high, leading to considerable CO2 emissions and unnecessarily high running costs. These problems could be addressed if we move from conventional centralised power generation systems to efficient onsite micro-generation technology, and one promising possibility in this line is the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC).

SOFC technology combines hydrogen and oxygen in an electro-chemical reaction to generate electricity, with the only by-products being water vapour, heat and a modest amount of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen can be supplied from hydrocarbon fuels such as natural gas, which is widely available for domestic and public buildings. For three years, the TRISOFC project team worked to advance this type of technology by developing a low-cost durable low temperature (LT) SOFC tri-generation (cooling, heating and power) prototype.

The project officially concluded at the end of July. The team designed, optimised and built an LT-SOFC tri-generation prototype, based on the integration of a novel LT-SOFC stack and a desiccant cooling unit. Additional components of the system are a fuel processor to generate reformate gas and other equipment for the electrical, mechanical and control balance of plant (BoP).

The operating temperature of the TRISOFC system is between 500 and 600 degrees Celsius, in comparison to normal SOFCs of 800 to 1000 degrees Celsius. This is important, because it enables BoP and other temperature dependent components to be manufactured from relatively low cost materials, such as stainless steel, and so potentially it substantially reduces costs of materials and components.

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