Advanced Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell research rig, unique in the UK, arrives at the Translational Energy Research Centre

mohamed pourkashanian stands next to a large mcfc on a pallet

The Translational Energy Research Centre is now home to a state-of-the-art, low-carbon energy research rig which is the first of its kind in the UK. The carbonate fuel cell enables research into an innovative method of capturing carbon and while simultaneously producing both electricity and hydrogen.

In January 2022, after two years of working closely with US-based clean energy supplier FuelCell Energy (FCE), its carbonate fuel cell testing rig arrived in the UK for the first time. The cutting-edge apparatus has been designed as a bespoke piece of equipment for the Translational Energy Research Centre, in a collaboration between FuelCell Energy and our research associates.

The fuel cell is an attractive new technology option for significantly improving zero-carbon energy systems. The unit both captures CO2 and produces electricity, and is also capable of producing hydrogen as a by-product. Offering a fuel cell of this kind at the facility creates the opportunity for R&D and innovation on this new carbon capture solution, including opportunities for research into the use and generation of green hydrogen, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and across the full carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) chain for both power and industrial applications.

FuelCell Energy, the only manufacturer of commercial carbonate fuel cell systems in the world and a global leader in fuel cell technology, replicated its own in-house testing rig, designed with additional analytical capabilities and supporting infrastructure, specifically for the Translational Energy Research Centre. A highly sophisticated control and monitoring unit is integrated into the carbonate pilot plant, allowing for extensive analysis and monitoring of voltage and current, temperatures, gas composition and pressure.

Thanks to the centre’s flexible, plug-and-play approach, research can be undertaken not only to understand more about the capabilities of the fuel cell itself, but also its ability to converge with bioenergy processes and sustainable aviation fuels research. The fuel cell will also utilise hydrogen generated on-site from renewable electricity and, as with other equipment in the facility, the fuel cell will be integrated through the smart energy system for system management and optimisation.

Our research teams are continuing to work closely with FCE, as the team are currently in the process of designing the supporting infrastructure for the fuel cell module, ensuring all components are connected and able to receive the appropriate volume, composition and pressure of the different gases. The project is expected to be fully operational by July 2022.

Speaking about the fuel cell, Managing Director of the Translational Energy Research Centre, Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian said: “We are very excited to have the first carbonate fuel cell with carbon capture functionality in the UK housed at the Translational Energy Research Centre. The carbonate fuel cell technology is identified as a priority next-generation UK carbon capture technology within a recent report commissioned by BEIS, and with the technology now installed, we can begin understanding how this exciting technology can benefit existing decarbonisation strategies and become a vital part of new zero-carbon solutions.

“We have been grateful for the support of FuelCell Energy in the production and delivery of our carbonate fuel cell apparatus, especially as it fits our unique requirements and allows for cutting-edge, world-leading research to take place at the Translational Energy Research Centre.”

“We were encouraged to participate in this project at the University of Sheffield’s Translational Energy Research Centre during our discussions with Drax Power Station around potential use of our technology for BECCS applications, and we are excited to see the arrival of our stack at the facility,” said Tony Leo, Chief Technology Officer of FuelCell Energy. “We look forward to working with the research center team as they bring their unique skill set and objectives to the test project in an effort to advance toward the carbon neutrality goals of the UK and the rest of the world.”

The Translational Energy Research Centre is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

a flame bursts from a pipe in, the pictures is clearly taken through a keyhole view point