2002 Fuel Cell Seminar

Fuel Cell Seminar
Nov 18-21, Palm Springs, CA

The Fuel Cell Seminar has been held every two years* since 1978. Until recently, it’s been essentially a scientific forum. The 2000 event (in Portland OR) saw a major change into a full blown trade show. That trend continued this time, with 50% larger attendance (3000) and many more than twice the number of exhibitors (125). The event is very international, with huge contingents from Europe and Asia. For the first time, simultaneous translation in Japanese was provided. (*From now on, they’re going annual–the next one will be in Miami, Nov ’03.)

The mood this time, however, was distinctly different. Recall that January 2000 started with a runaway boom in stock prices and excitement over fuel cells. By November, that surge was still strong, and the event had the feel of a celebration. In contrast, this year the mood was almost grim, or at least very subdued. Beyond the effects of the wider economic doldrums, the reality has set in that cost and performance of fuel cell technology just aren’t there yet. Fuel cells are still years from being ready for a meaningful ramp-up in commercial market penetration. Investment bankers and venture capitalists, who were very much a presence in 2000, were few and far between this time.

A great many of the exhibitors were suppliers to the industry, offering membranes, catalysts, pumps and valves, test equipment, etc. Thus the comment that people were there to sell to each other, not to sell fuel cells to real customers. (The only customers appear to be governments–see below.) It is possible to spin this positively–companies like 3-M and Agilent wouldn’t be bothered if they didn’t see a big opportunity down the road. The large attendance could be viewed in the same light. The saying goes that it’s a matter of when, not if [that fuel cells will be a practical reality on a large commercial scale].

Keynote Address
S. David Freeman was blunt (as usual) in his keynote address–fuel cells have not achieved financial viability; the fuel cell car is a huge publicity stunt–not yet a practical reality; and distributed generation (via fuel cells) doesn’t have the political appeal that renewable energy enjoys. He urged the industry to pay more attention to the question of fuels for fuel cells, and suggested that it’s in everyone’s interest to deploy hydrogen burning IC engines, to build up the hydrogen infrastructure independent of and in parallel with fuel cell development.

Four keynote lectures followed:
– DOE Fossil Energy Fuel Cell Program (Victor Der for George Rudins)
FE spends $250 million/year for stationary fuel cell RD&D, mostly on SECA and FC-Hybrids. SECA is the initiative whose goal is $400/kw planar solid oxide fuel cell. Contracts have been awarded to four industry teams to pursue various technical strategies.

– Stationary Perspective (Jerry Leitman, Fuel Cell Energy)
Stationary plants are commercially available today, and offer dramatic efficiency and emissions improvements over engines and combined cycle plants.

– Transportation Perspective (Andrew Schell, for Ferdinand Panik, DaimlerChrysler)
Fuel cells in transportation are a necessity to gain the “freedoms” (i.e. of choice, from emissions, from oil dependence, etc). Applications will ramp up over the next 7 years to become truly commercial. New fuel insfrastructures must be deployed. (In January, DOE replaced the PNGV with FreedomCAR, concentrating on hydrogen and fuel cells

– Portable Perspective (Laryy DuBois, SRI)
There is no Moore’s Law for batteries. The price paid per kw is high compared with large scale power, creating an opportunity for fuel cells. Drivers include longer runtime, fast recharge, unlimited recharge, etc. A dozen companies at least plan to be selling products sometime in the next 3 years. Concentration is on direct methanol or PEM, with at least one SOFC to run on butane. The competition isn’t standing still, with advances in batteries and ultracaps, as well as work on nano-heat engines and RF scavenging. (I have a pdf of this presentation-2MB)

– Fuel Perspective (Don Huberts, Shell Hydrogen)
Stationary, Transportation and Portable each have different requirements for refueling infrastructure, and no single answer will suffice. There needs to be a mix of technologies, primary energy sources, and delivery means.

Program Overviews
A series of presentations outlined programs and budgets deveoted to fuel cell developments funded by the European Commission, Germany, Japan, and the US (DOE). Strong long term commitments were evident, with expressed goals of meeting Kyoto requirements and reducing oil dependence through hydrogen and fuel cells. $100s of millions are budgeted. Notably, they all talk in terms of gradual progress up the adoption curve, with the bulk of activity over the next 6-10 years in demos and projects.

In addition to over 230 poster papers, parallel sessions included presentations on PEM R&D, SOFC, Commercialization and Demonstrations, Fuel Processing and DMFC/Portable. Many of the papers were highly technical and specialized, while others were little more than general overviews for companies and programs (some bordering on infommercials).

Reflecting on the general state of the industry, governments appear to be the main customers for fuel cell companies, along with the big carmakers who are doing demos, partnerships, and their own development programs (GM was curiously quiet at this event). Otherwise, it just seems to be a swarm of similar sounding programs, and it’s nearly impossible to see any real differentiation that would indicate a possible eventual winner.

This is especially true in PEM, and also to some extent in SOFC. Fuel Cell Energy, of course, is the only US molten carbonate company, and they are just introducing a new and improved series of models into their 12 MW order backlog. They are “commercial”, but price remains an issue, as well as perceived technical risk on the part of buyers (the US Navy does seem to be keen on them for shipboard use). Meanwhile, companies like Plug and Nuvera have quietly stopped talking about residential.

As the long slow march of this technology continues, maybe the traditional approaches are just too difficult. Almost everyone seems to be pursuing the same old stacks with bolts around the edge, and the same handful of reformer technologies. Meanwhile, a number of “stealth” developments are underway, out of the spotlight, by people who are thinking different. They may just come along with novel new approaches that break through the age-old dilemmas of cost, manufacturability, and performance. One is almost tempted to think that if something is being presented at conferences, it’s not cutting edge, and it’s not the answer. (And it’s a safe bet that companies that do make presentations are probably not telling us about their really good stuff.)

Here is an example of such a possible “end-run”: Microcell Corp had a booth showing a very different configuration for a fuel cell system. Very few details were given, but they did tell me their cost goal is less than $100/kw. The cells are long thin hollow tubes (less than 1 mm in diameter) whose wall consists of the anode, electrolyte, and cathode, and which can be made by extrusion. The cells can be arrayed in bundles in a tube and header configuration, and high power densities are predicted. The company is in the 2nd year of a 3 year ATP grant, with cofunding investment by Pepco.

Ceramic Fuel Cell Ltd, of Australia, presented its new all ceramic SOFC stack technology which looks very promising. Temperature cycling is the big issue for SOFC’s and their latest set of innovations have resulted in a simple rugged design.

References and Publications:

Abstracts of the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar–the book is 2 ” thick; also on a CD, available for purchase ($55 and $30, respectively). Contact:
Catherine Porterfield

European Integrated Hydrogen Project
White paper: “European Transport Policy for 2010 : time to decide ”

New releases (at the seminar):
2002 Annual Progress Report, H2, FC and Infrastructure Technologies Programs, 400 page book, or CD. Also online at

The new 6th edition of the DOE Fuel Cell Handbook (Oct 2002) was handed out at the Seminar. This comprehensive textbook (450 pages) can be ordered on CD at

Overview of Portable Power
The German company Smart Fuel Cell is among the many contenders in portable power, and appear to be making good progress towards commercialization. They were listed among Scientific American’s 50 Business Leaders (Dec issue)

They cite this helpful overview of the market on their website:

[web tips]
— The NETL website has its fuel cell materials under the Strategic Center for Natural Gas. Look under “End-Use” to find fuel cells.

— The DOD has a website which details a major residential PEM demo program, as well as the Army’s Fuel Cell Test & Evaluation Center (FCTEC), operated by Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) in Johnstown, PA

By coincidence, this article appeared right after the Seminar

More Rationalization Of Fuel-Cell Companies Expected
By Lynne Olver, Dow Jones Newswires — Nov 25, 2002

VANCOUVER — The fuel-cell industry is entering an “important phase” in which more corporate consolidation can be expected, according to Pierre Rivard, president and chief executive of Hydrogenics Corp. (HYGS). Rivard said the PC and telecom industries tend to have a few dominant players, and he expects a similar pattern in the fuel-cell business over the next three years.

“It’s typical that, post-consolidation, you might see two, three, perhaps four emerging, larger-sized companies and to me that’s very healthy,” Rivard told Dow Jones.

. . . . The article goes on to describe Plug Power’s acquisition of H Power, and Global Thermoelectric’s interest in finding a buyer or major partner for its SOFC business.,,BT_CO_20021125_005129-search,00.html?collection=autowire%2F30day&vql_string=olver%3Cin%3E%28article%2Dbody%29

Wave Power Nearing Commercial Reality

Over the years, there have been many attempts to harness the power of the ocean waves (and this is excluding tidal and ocean thermal schemes). A small company in New Jersey called Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has worked intensively on this since the company began operations in 1994, and appears to have a solution at hand. Their story merits a close look.

OPT started its development effort with a revolutionary approach based on piezoelectric polymers, where wave motion flexes an array of strips of the material to generate power. That work reached a prototype stage, but it was determined two years ago that a polymer with lower losses was needed. A major DOD development contract is now underway continuing that effort. AMP Inc, a major investor in the company, supplied the piezoelectric material, and also provides cabling, hubs and connectors.

In a parallel program, OPT has come up with a hydrodynamic device that looks like a standard ocean buoy, and generates power from wave motion. The system uses standard off the shelf proven marine technology: buoys, mooring and anchors, and underwater power cable. These aspects are supported through a strategic relationship with Penta-Ocean Construction Co, Japan’s largest ocean engineering company.

Mechanical energy is obtained as the buoy moves against a self-contained “sea anchor”. Inside the water tight compartment, this mechanical stroke motion is converted into hydraulic pressure, which in turn drives a generator. Special electronic controls deal with the randomness of the input wavepower.

The technology is inherently modular. The initial 20 kW module (buoy) is a cylinder 20 m. long and 5 m. diameter, which rides at the surface, mostly submerged, and anchored to the ocean floor in 100 feet of water.

The company holds 12 patents, and 8 more are pending, but has maintained a very low profile. They have assembled a large body of knowledge and expertise on wave behavior, marine engineering, and oceanographics, as well as obtaining exclusive rights to certain related technologies. One year of ocean trials have been successfully completed.

(UFTO has been in touch with them since early 1995, and followed their progress closely until such time as it appeared appropriate to report. This summary provides the first real look at what OPT is up to.)

Recently, a large European company did extensive due diligence, and reported that OPT is far ahead of other wave energy programs (mostly in the UK and Scandinavia). Negotiations are underway to possibly form a separate joint venture company for Europe. An Australian utility has placed an order for the first system. The US Dept of Defense (particularly the Navy) is supporting projects for self-powering buoy-based systems, for remote power supply for naval bases, and for desalination. The company probably could bootstrap itself with these program revenues, however in the interest of moving faster they are privately raising an investment round of $10 M.

Estimates are that smaller systems (~500 kW) will deliver power at 7-10 cents/kWh, while larger (grid connected) systems > 10 MW will do it at 3 – 4 cents. (Capital cost of $2700/kW) Installations of 100 MW would occupy about 1/5 of a square mile, out of sight from shore. Installation and commissioning would be quick. Duty cycles should be 80-90%, and highly predictable. Sites are abundant all over the world. Systems would even provide additional environmental benefits of reducing beach erosion and supplying fish habitats.

The company is very interested in participating with a major utility in the first installations.

Contact: Dr. George Taylor, President, 609-730-0400,

E-Beam Stack Gas Scrubbing

This might be titled, “Son of Ebara”, for those of you familiar with the history. It appears that dramatically better performance may be possible.

This text was provided to me by a private development group with access and connections to the new e-beam technology that is mentioned. I’ve edited the letter to remove some of the proprietary details. Even so, important ideas are disclosed. I would ask that you be especially careful not share it with anyone outside your company (as with all UFTO materials). If you’re seriously interested in pursuing this, I will put you in touch with the sources.


Below, please, find a short overview of both old and new developments in e-beam processing of industrial exhaust gases.

E-Beam Processing of Industrial Exhaust Gases

— Background
In the past few years new methods of decomposition of VOCs as well as inorganic compounds in flue gases have been developed, primarily involving low-temperature, non-equilibrium plasmas used to selectively decompose organic molecules. The high concentration of electrons, ions, excited species and radicals make these plasmas well suited for driving decomposition reactions that otherwise could be initiated only at very high gas temperature.

Such plasma methods are of particular interest in the decomposition of dilute concentrations of halogenated organic compounds in carrier gas streams such as dry or wet (about 10% relative humidity) air. This type of gaseous waste stream is encountered for example in vapor extraction from soil, air stripping from contaminated water and air pollution control.

Low temperature, non-equilibrium plasmas can be generated by electron beams. They operate at atmospheric pressure in large volumes and in a highly controllable fashion making very high throughput possible. It has been also demonstrated that electron beam becomes even more efficient in decomposition of certain VOCs when combined with certain type of electrical discharge.
Advantages of e-beam induced decomposition over thermal processes become even more pronounced at dilute concentrations of VOCs in the exhaust gases. Because of the high non-equilibrium level of ionization and the selectivity of plasma-chemical decomposition processes the energy required for a given decomposition of dilute concentrations of “electron hungry” VOCs can be 10 to 100 times less than in thermal processes such as incineration, where energy is channeled to all molecules in the gaseous waste stream.

— The EBARA Experience
The Electron Beam Dry Scrubbing (EBDS) process has been first proposed as an efficient method for the simultaneous removal of SO2 and NOx from industrial flue gas in early 1970s. In this process, the e-beam energy generates high concentration of oxidants (OH, HO2, O3) converting SO2 and NOx to nitric and sulfuric acid which in turn form solid powder of ammonium nitrate and sulfate in the presence of added ammonia (NH3).

The Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute and the University of Tokyo have carried out the first research on EBDS in 1970. Follow up technical development by EBARA Corporation lead to the first 10,000 Nm3/hr pilot plant built for a sintering plant at Yahata Works Nippon Steel Corp in 1977. At this plant a flue gas at temperatures T=70-90 C containing 200 ppm of SO2 and 180 ppm of NOx has been treated by 2 x 750keV/45kW e-beam accelerators.

In the US the first and only EBARA-process demonstration unit with a maximum flow rate of 30,000 Nm3/hr has been put in operation in June 1985 at a coal fired power plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. At this plant 2 x 800 keV/80kW electron accelerators has been employed treating 1,000 ppm of SO2 and 400 ppm of NOx in a flue gas at temperatures T=66-150 C.

In December 1985 a 20,000 Nm3/hr pilot plant has been built at Badenwerk, Karlsruhe, FRG at 550 MW coal fired facility employing two 300KeV/90 kW accelerators to treat 50-500 ppm of SO2 and 300-500 ppm of NOx in 70-100 C exhaust gas. In early 1990s similar e-beam treatment pilot units have been built in China, Poland and Russia.

One of the main limitations of EBARA process has been a considerable energy requirement for oxidation of SO2/NOx in an air stream, which amounts in average to about 10 eV/molecule. For a coal fired 300 MW electrical power plant this translates to 12 MW (4% of the electrical power generated by the plant required e-beam power. Back in 1980s the most powerful accelerators were below 100 kW, so 12 MW installation would require 120 x100 kW accelerators and the total accelerator costs in the access of $180 mln. were prohibiting.

— What’s New
A new generation of powerful accelerators manufactured in Russia which can deliver 1MW of e-beam power for the cost of about $1.5 million per unit, can already reduce cost of EBARA process by order of magnitude.

Moreover, a synergetic approach combining electrical discharge and electron beam may allow another tenfold decrease in flue gas processing cost. This is done by essentially substituting much less expensive power of corona discharge for most of the expensive e-beam power. This process maintains all the advantages of e-beam processing such as stability of operation and uniform treatment of large volumes and high mass flows of flue gas — for a fraction of cost compare with e-beam treatment alone. Note that corona discharge alone, without e-beam stimulating effect, suffers from intrinsic non-uniformities and instabilities which greatly reduce its efficiency for industrial scale applications.

Experiments on SO2 oxidation in e-beam stimulated corona discharge have been conducted. We were investigating the plasma chemical processes in an electron beam driven plasma reactor for efficient decomposition of SO2 , NOx or any VOC in carrier gases at atmospheric pressures.

The reactor used an electron beam to stimulate corona discharge at sub-breakdown pulsed electric field. A combination of e-beam and superimposed electrical field in the form of stimulated corona discharge creates plasma with highly controllable electron density and temperature and therefore highly controllable chemical reaction rates.

Synergetic effect of SO2 decomposition by the combined action of e-beam and corona discharge was estimated by the coefficient K equal to the ratio of the discharge energy Wc, consumed from high-voltage source, to the energy Wb deposited by electron beam within the volume of the discharge:
K = Wc / Wb

It has been demonstrated that under certain experimental conditions the energy of discharge consumed from high-voltage source can exceed e-beam energy input by more than 300 times. In other words, a low cost high-voltage rectifier instead of a high-cost electron accelerator provided about 99.7% of the flue gas ionization energy. As a result the same SO2 decomposition effect in e-beam stimulated corona discharge can be achieved with 300 times lower e-beam power compare with irradiation by e-beam alone.

There some indications that shorter e-beam pulses and higher discharge threshold voltage Umax may also lead to the significant decrease of energy cost per oxidation of one SO2 molecule from a typical value of 10 eV/mol down to 3 or even 1eV/mol. However, even at the lower Umax values rather efficient SO2 oxidation process is taking place.

The main purpose of these initial experiments on SO2 oxidation was to demonstrate significance of synergetic effect in e-beam stimulated corona discharge. Discovered synergetic effect allows efficient SO2 decomposition under the conditions when only 0.3% of the total ionization energy is provided by an electron beam with the rest coming from a low cost electrical discharge. Further experiments are necessary to determine the optimum conditions for most efficient decomposition of SO2./NOx mixtures, as well as VOCs in industrial exhaust gases.

We are open to any form of collaboration with a US utility company or research organization, which would enable us to continue these very promising experiments.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

New combustion system MERIT

Subject: UFTO Note — New combustion system MERIT
Date: Thu, 15 May 1997
From: Ed Beardsworth <>

(this is a news item, right off the web. The only additional info I could find is a brief mention on the NIRE web site..the address appears below.)
| ** UFTO ** Edward Beardsworth ** Consultant
| 951 Lincoln Ave. tel 415-328-5670
| Palo Alto CA 94301-3041 fax 415-328-5675

New combustion system MERIT has smooth burn

Nikkei English News via Individual Inc. : (Nikkei Industrial Daily, May 6, 1997)

The Agency of Industrial Science and Technology’s National Institute for Resources and Environment reports progress in the design of a next-generation combustion system dubbed MERIT, for Mediator Recirculation Integrating Technology.

MERIT combines oxidation and reduction steps to minimize energy loss and the release of polluting emissions during fuel combustion. Fuel is not burned directly, but exposed to a circulating metallic mediator.

The method is said to be as much as 10% more energy efficient than conventional combustion systems which directly burn fuel. Moreover, no nitrogen oxides are released and pure carbon dioxide is easily recovered.

In the latest development, the institute succeeded in running smooth continuous combustion reactions in a small prototype system. The next step is to design larger facilities, with the aim of eventually introducing the technology to power-generating turbines and boilers.

The prototype system comprises a pair of reaction columns connected at the top and bottom. Metal particles are exposed to air in the first column and undergo a sudden oxidation reaction, generating heat of 1,000 C.

The now-oxidized metal particles are then moved to the second column, where they mix with fuel and undergo a reduction reaction. Once reduced, they can be transferred back to the first column and oxidized again. In this way, the circulating metal particles act as a mediator for an overall combustion reaction.

In the tests, nickel was used as the metal mediator, and both the oxidation and reduction reactions were completed in less than one-tenth of a second. By circulating the nickel particles at a high enough speed it was possible to run a continuous oxidation-reduction reaction.

The challenge now is to find metals with higher durability and to develop a way to control the oxidation reaction. With these research topics in mind, the institute said it plans to work with other research institutes and private concerns to develop a practical technology.

<<Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Inc. — 05-07-97>>
see also:

Happy New Year (& Electric Carpets)

Subject: UFTO Happy New Year (& Electric Carpets)
Date: Thu, 02 Jan 1997 12:19:58 -0800
From: Ed Beardsworth

| ** UFTO ** Edward Beardsworth ** Consultant
| 951 Lincoln Ave. tel 415-328-5670
| Palo Alto CA 94301-3041 fax 415-328-5675

Happy New Year!

This is a quick note to say hello as we begin the new year.

1996 has been exciting.
– Participation in UFTO is at an all time high
– Email has replaced virtually all hard copy correspondence
– The web site is operational
– We held a ground-breaking workshop with the national labs
– We’re closely coupled into the workings of the new DOE Task Force on
– Many of you are pursuing programs and deals with various labs and

I look forward to finding new and better ways to make UFTO valuable and important to you and your company.

As you know, I’m constantly on the lookout for significant new developments, technologies, and opportunities to bring to your attention. These stories can come from networking with our friends at the National Labs, from accidental encounters with stories in magazines, the press or the internet, or from other personal and professional contacts.

What makes UFTO different from other clipping services or technology newsletters? With the glut of information available, the most important difference is selectivity. Knowing your areas of strategic and technical interest, I choose things that will be worthwhile for you to review and pursue, or pass along to others in your company.

Second, in most cases I make inquiries and establish contact with the technology developers. This way, we not only get a sense what’s behind the “press release”, but we also begin a relationship that puts us in a preferred position for further dealings.

Please tell me how well this is working for you, and whether you would rather have me be more or less selective in the future, or if there are areas you’d particularly like to focus on in ’97.


And now, for something completely different:
Here is a story I saw on the web a few days ago. We’ve all heard of magic carpets and electric blankets (and electric vehicles), but the idea of an electric carpet caught me completely by surprise–have you ever heard of it? It would seem they are a common item in Japan. Wonder if/when they’ll show up in this country…(I haven’t made contacts on this one)..

ANALYSIS/ Efficient electric carpets win popularity
Product Spotlight: Nikkei Marketing Journal, Dec. 26, 1996

Electric carpets have become one of the more popular alternatives for heating rooms. Makers specializing in this product are doing well, and other consumer electronics makers making efforts to develop high value-added electric carpets.

Sharp Corp.’s HJ-G20A-C, at a suggested retail price of 35,000 yen, is a popular example. The carpet requires only half the power of conventional models, and it is treated with an anti-slip coating. It comes with a beige gabardine cover. Sharp is now looking to develop even more energy-efficient models.

Matsushita Electric Works Ltd. has won over consumers with four models: the smaller DR241-A and DR241-C, both priced at 33,200 yen, and the DR341-A and DR341-C, both priced at 44,300 yen. These carpets also receive anti-slip treatments and consume only about half as much electricity as earlier models. Their insulation cushions offer improved comfort and heat-transfer capability. Matsushita developed a gabardine cover (in blue or beige) with a cashmere-like feel that has proven very popular. The firm plans to develop other, larger carpets with similar features.

Toshiba Home Technology Corp. employs a two-layer insulating material on the bottom of the heating element of its offerings. The carpets reduce heat loss through the floor by about 30%, lowering power consumption by about 25%. The company offers one mode in which it uses only about one-fourth the electricity of conventional electric carpets. Toshiba’s CK-20FS (C) and CK-20FS (CT) are both popular. They have a mainly beige natural coloring with a cubic design pattern. The anti-slip carpet is made from polyester, but with a feel like cotton. Toshiba has sold more than it expected. “Our carpet’s comfort and energy-saving functions have matched consumer demands,” claimed one company official. Toshiba expects sales of the carpets this winter to increase 5% year-on-year.