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The Basics of FuelCell Energy’s Carbon Capture Platform

Tony Leo

September 21, 2022

The global effort to cut emissions is expected to increase over the next decade, particularly in energy-intensive sectors like manufacturing and petrochemicals. With the pressing need to cut emissions across industries, carbon capture and storage technology has both economic and environmental benefits. FuelCell Energy offers the only known platform that can capture carbon from an external source while simultaneously generating power. Power generation improves the net cost of capture economics, making the fuel cell a practical solution on the path to net-zero.

 

What is carbon capture and storage technology (CSS)?

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Carbon capture and storage is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) produced at a facility and then storing it so that it is not released into the atmosphere. Carbonate fuel cells can capture CO2 and generate additional power in the process, something that other fuel cells and conventional absorption systems cannot do. In many cases, the excess CO2 has potential to be recycled into a valuable end-product. Some facilities might use the recycled CO2 in their process or even sell it. Carbon capture technology presents an opportunity for facilities to reach their sustainability goals while creating additional resources on-site.

How does carbon capture work?

FuelCell Energy’s platform can run on natural gas or biogas. Natural gas and biogas both contain methane, a chemical compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms (CH4). Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert hydrogen-rich fuels into electrical power and heat. Inside the fuel cell, methane is steam-reformed at 600 degrees Celsius and converted into hydrogen and CO2. The fuel cell produces electricity, heat, water, and CO2, which can be exhausted or captured to be recycled into a valuable end-product. The unique chemistry of the carbonate fuel cell platform can also be used to concentrate CO2 from external sources for capture and use or sequestration.

Fossil fuel emissions from industrial plants contain concentrations of CO2. When delivering those exhaust streams into the fuel cell’s air intake (cathode), the CO2 is electrochemically pumped to the fuel electrodes (anode). This increases the concentration of CO2 available to be recycled for industrial use.

CH4-and-CO2FuelCell Energy’s plants produce additional power rather than consume it during the carbon capture process. By comparison, conventional carbon capture technologies consume about 20 percent of a plant’s overall power output. Fuel cells can extend the life of existing fossil fueled power plants while generating a return on investment.

Since there is no burning of the fuel source during the electrochemical process, air emissions are minimal and much lower than combustion systems. FuelCell Energy’s carbon capture method pulls CO2 from the air stream (where it is difficult to separate) and concentrates it in the anode (where it is easy to separate). If there’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the flue gas, about 70 percent is destroyed as the stream passes through the air electrode channels. NOx gases contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain. Facilities producing CO2 on site can also reduce their Scope 3 emissions by decreasing the logistic and diesel truck trips emissions.

The modular design of the fuel cell units allows a site to scale up to their energy requirements. Systems can range from a single sub-MW powerplant to an entire multi-MW fuel cell park. Our single stack platforms produce between 250 kilowatts to 400 kilowatts of power. Our MW-scale platforms are configured around four-stack modules, which net 1.4 megawatts of power each, which is enough power to sustain 1,400 average-sized homes in the United States. This modular approach allows the configuration of a wide variety of system sizes. It all depends on the amount of stacks in the system.

Industrial uses for recycled CO2

Once captured and concentrated, CO2 has many potential uses. Examples of common use cases for CO2 are for beverage bottling, meat processing, and cooling for frozen food. It can also be used to make dry ice, applied to water treatment processes, or aid in the production of cement and plastics.

As the planet looks to reduce emissions, businesses are setting more aggressive net-zero targets. FuelCell Energy’s carbon capture platform has the potential to provide an efficient and economical path to net-zero.

FuelCell Energy recently released a “Carbon Savings Calculator” that provides an estimate of how much an organization can save by recycling their CO2.

How much could you save by recycling your CO2?

 

Tony Leo

Tony joined FCE in 1978 and has held key leadership roles in research, development, and commercialization of electrochemical systems during his tenure. He is well known throughout the battery and fuel cell industry, and has authored numerous papers, contributed to technical books, holds several US Patents, and has served as Chairman of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers PTC-50 Fuel Cell Performance Test Code committee and as a member on the Department of Energy's (DOE) Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC). Tony has held numerous positions in the company involved in managing advanced research and development as well as commercialization of the company’s fuel cell products. Mr. Leo holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.