The objective of the Electrolysis Annex is to provide a platform for international information sharing and learning between experts with knowledge and experience of electrolyser technologies. It seeks to understand how these can best be deployed in energy systems in order to accelerate the development and eventual commercialisation of the respective technologies.
Representatives from ten countries and regions presented the status of SOFC/SOEC research and development on the recent Annex meeting in Florida. The result was a general picture about the overall trends in strategies and funding, the main development lines, regional preferences regarding system sizes and concepts, engagement of academic and industry players.
In the USA, the SOFC program under the Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy has been progressing further towards the planned megawatt size SOFC systems utilizing natural gas and coal gas for high efficient electricity production. Coordinated efforts are devoted to cost reduction, reliability, and lifetime and include major academic and industry players. The current SOFC system costs are in the range of 6,000 – 10,000 $/kW.
In Japan, the focus had been on developing commercial micro combined heat and power units using natural gas through significant support by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) project. The sales of the resulting commercial ENE-FARM units have increased steadily towards almost 200,000 units by the end of 2016 (including PEM & SOFC - ca. 10% of total units) while the subsidies will phase out according to the plan. The currently running NEDO project supports the development of stationary SOFC systems ranging from 5 to 250 kW and the needed research, for example regarding improvement of durability. Further, energy storage concepts involving electrolysis SOEC are supported.
The Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH2 JU), a European public-private partnership has provided substantial funding to move the technologies to a commercial level over the last years. The latest strategies have favored PEM and hydrogen over SOFC (and SOEC) solutions, which make local political strategies even more important for the SOFC/SOEC R&D in the European countries. Here, the situation is very diverse.
Germany is supporting its political goal of reducing fossil fuels and increasing of renewable sources in the energy (and transport) sector by substantial funding programs for example from the Ministry of Education and Research. SOFC & SOEC are considered for off grid applications, transport, energy storage (Power-to-X), and larger stationary units. The local programs promote the collaboration between industry and academia and the solution of challenges on all technology readiness levels. Forschungszentrum Jülich and Fraunhofer IKTS are the largest SOFC/SOEC research institutes covering this field from fundamental research towards demonstration of systems.
Also Denmark has an ambitious political goal of becoming independent on fossil fuels by 2050. However, the related options for funding of energy research have been reduced to less than 50% from 2010 to 2017. It has still been possible to maintain a big R&D effort in SOFC & SOEC – ca. 40 man years and mainly at Technical University of Denmark - through the remaining funding and international funding sources.
Hydrogen and fuel cells are considered key technologies for future energy systems both in the stationary and transport sectors in France and the research is supported by a number of programs covering fundamental research like developing of new electrodes, towards applied research and demonstration, where CEA and the company SYLFEN are carrying SOFC/SOEC towards the higher technology readiness levels.
The research funding policies in the UK have been moving more and more towards hydrogen related topics, while dedicated fuel cell research options have been reduced. The research activities are therefore also spread out over many universities, with University of Birmingham being the largest player in academia, and industries like Ceres Power and smaller companies that cover activity areas from powders to smaller systems.
Finland has maintained a strong position in the SOFC area both related to research (VTT), to cell and stack (ELCOGEN) and also system manufacture (Convion).
The Netherlands contribute with both academic and industry research with a large effort on system solutions combining SOFC (and SOEC) with renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass.
In Sweden, companies that provide for SOFC/SOEC (like Sandvik – interconnects, Höganäs - materials) and that potentially will utilize these technologies in their products (like Volvo & Scania) are active in the R&D area, supported by smaller research groups at the universities and research institutes. The Swedish Energy Agency is one of the funding bodies with increased interest in SOFC/SOEC.
Worldwide, the SOFC/SOEC R&D experiences significant different political and funding situations, being more or less favorable. The international research and industry communities are still changing, with companies joining or leaving, while major academic players have been able to maintain their efforts also under changing political/funding opportunities. Despite the different conditions, SOFC/SOEC technologies are generally moving closer to the market.