Biogas-Powered Fuel Cell System Wins Big, Crowd Goes Wild
Acumentrics, which specializes in the manufacturing of solid oxide fuel cell systems (SOFC) for power applications, won the 2007 New England Innovation Award from SBANE, the Small Business Alliance of New England, for its innovations in ceramic fuel cell technology.
Instead of molding it into the shape of a thin sheet, as do most other fuel cell manufacturers, the scientists at Acumentrics did it in the shape of a tube, which renders the fuel cells shatter resistant. This property allows the SOFCs to handle temperature swings from 20 to 800ºC quite effectively, unlike most other companies' models which break when they are cycled on and off due to thermal shock.
The solid oxide fuel cells built by Acumentrics have the distinct advantage of being able to run on biogas (which delivers the most energy per hectare of crops), natural gas, propane, ethanol, diesel or biodiesel and don't require hydrogen, whose use is still controversial because of the large investments required in production, distribution and storage technologies (though they can run off it if need be). This is due to the tubes' ability to disassociate fuels via in-situ reformation. Furthermore, their fuel cells consume only about half as much fuel as comparable small-engine generators, a property that, when combined with their use of carbon neutral biogases, makes them some of the most efficient and cleanest systems currently available.
"We are thrilled to see our units run on carbon-neutral biogas," said Gary Simon, CEO of Acumentrics. "And our ability to run directly off biogas makes our fuel cells extremely practical. While we can run on hydrogen, too, it is great to offer compatibility with logistical, affordable fuels. The renewable aspect is a huge bonus."
After conducting a battery of tests examining cost, reliability, durability and efficiency, the US Department of Energy determined that Acumentrics' fuel cells could be built inexpensively on a large scale, a process that involves first forming ceramic powders into tubular cells and then combining them with fully-enclosed power systems with computer controls.
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