The basic product configuration of the solid oxide fuel cell system is able to generate between 1 and 10 MW of electric power. The system’s power generation efficiency can reach 65%, with overall efficiency increasing to 95% when by-product heat is captured.
‘The cost challenges associated with the technology have stumped a lot of people for a long time,’ says Johanna Wellington, advanced technology leader at GE Global Research and the head of GE’s fuel cell business. ‘But we made it work, and we made it work economically. It’s a game-changer.’
Additive thermal spray technology, originally developed at GE Global Research to protect parts working inside jet engines, is used to deposit the anode and electrolyte, while the cathode is screen-printed.
Running on natural gas, the ceramic SOFC also produces 'synthetic gas' (syngas) that contains residual hydrogen, which is fed to a Jenbacher gas engine to generate additional electricity, bringing the electrical efficiency to 65%.
The fuel cell business grew out of GE Global Research, with financial backing from GE’s ecomagination programme, but it now operates as an independent unit with its own board of directors.
GE is building the pilot facility at Malta, near Saratoga Springs, where robotic thermal spray equipment, fuel cell test stations, screen printers, and bulk gas storage tanks are already being installed.