ExxonMobil Extends Deal for Fuel Cell Carbon Capture Project

ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy announced a new joint-development agreement to enhance carbon capture fuel cell technology, as the groups work on a process to capture combustion exhaust from power plants and other industrial facilities.

The two-year deal, announced Nov. 6 and an extension of an earlier agreement, is aimed at optimizing core technology, process integration, and large-scale deployment of carbon capture. FuelCell Energy’s technology uses carbonate fuel cells to capture and concentrate carbon dioxide (CO2), with the COsent to the fuel cell. The fuel cell produces power and captures and concentrates the COfor storage.

“We have a great opportunity to scale and commercialize our unique carbon capture solution, one that captures about 90 percent of carbon dioxide from various exhaust streams, while generating additional power, unlike traditional carbon capture technologies which consume significant power,” FuelCell CEO Jason Few said in a statement. The project originally was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The companies said the new agreement is worth up to $60 million. The modular design of the technology enables it to deployed at a range of locations, including larger power plants. ExxonMobil said its research shows that a 500-MW power plant using a carbonate fuel cell could generate an additional 120 MW of power.

Brad Crabtree, vice president of carbon management for Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Great Plains Institute, told POWER on Nov. 11 that business models can be built around carbon capture technology, particularly as the cost to implement technologies falls.

“It isn’t so much new technology as it is policy and business model, for companies to be comfortable moving forward with projects,” Crabtree said. “Getting the experience with the technology, bringing the cost down, that’s the impetus for more deployment.”

Project Began in 2016

FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil began working on the fuel cell technology in 2016 with a project at Southern Co.’s Barry power plant in Alabama (see “Plant Barry to Pilot Fuel Cell Carbon Capture from Coal and Gas Generation”). ExxonMobil has said it wants to conduct another pilot test of the technology at one of its operating sites.

The companies said their focus has been on understanding the science behind carbonate fuel cells, and the process to increase efficiency in separating and concentrating CO2from the exhaust of natural gas-fueled power generation.

The companies said their laboratory tests show that applying carbonate fuel cells to gas-fired power generation can capture COmore efficiently than current, more conventional CCS technology. The companies said their early research indicates the technology could capture more than 90% of a gas-fired power plant’s COemissions.

The technology works as power plant exhaust is fed into the cathode side of the fuel cell, which is located at the power plant. The exhaust replaces the ambient air used in typical applications.

The COin the exhaust is sent to the anode side, where it is concentrated and becomes easier to separate. The COfrom the anode exhaust stream is purified by chilling the stream to extract CO2  liquid. This enables what the companies call a more cost-effective capture of carbon, as the purified COcan then be transported by pipeline for enhanced oil recovery applications or underground storage.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).