FuelCell Energy (FCE) recently announced a contract with Alberta innovates for an engineering study on a fuel cell carbon capture application at a Husky Energy-owned heavy oil thermal facility near Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada.

FCE will develop and prove the application for a carbon capture configured megawatt-class fuel cell power plant to simultaneously concentrate and capture carbon while producing ultra-clean power.

Tony Leo, FuelCell Energy's Vice-President of Application Engineering and New Tech Development

Tony Leo

gasworld spoke exclusively to FuelCell Energy’s Vice-President of Application Engineering and New Tech Development, Tony Leo, about the proposed study, challenges faced, and plans for a first-of-its-kind, multi-megawatt fuel cell carbon capture pilot plant.

Ideal solution

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is an important global issue and specifically a challenge for Canadian Oil Sands producers as they look to reduce their carbon footprint at both extraction and upgrading facilities.

“Our fuel cell carbon capture solution may be the ideal solution, with the potential to decrease the carbon footprint for Canadian oil sands extraction efficiently and affordably,” Leo said.

The project recently announced with Alberta Innovates consists of an engineering study on a fuel cell carbon capture application at a Husky Energy-owned heavy oil thermal facility near Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada, that will look to prove just this. A second potential site that will also be looked at is the Scotford bitumen upgrading facility near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “In both cases the study will look at the specifics of installing and operating our carbon capture solution at the facility – space needs, mechanical and electrical connects,” he explained.

“More specifically, the study will aim to demonstrate how a megawatt-scale FuelCell Energy power plant operating on natural gas can affordably capture up to 43 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day, as well as destroy approximately 70% of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the flue gas routed to the fuel cell from the bitumen facilities.”

This initial contract covers the engineering study and, based on results, may lead to megawatt-scale fuel cell carbon capture project at one of the sites. Key project participants include Husky Energy, and MEG Energy, as well as Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) members BP, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Cenovus Energy, Devon Canada Corporation, Shell, and Suncor.

This will be FCE’s first project testing the carbon capture solution for an oil sands application. However, the company recently announced with ExxonMobil a host location for a first-of-its-kind, multi-megawatt fuel cell carbon capture pilot plant at the James M. Barry Electric Generating Station in Alabama. This 2.7 gigawatt mixed-use coal and gas-fired power plant operated by southern company subsidiary Alabama Power, will host pilot plant tests of the carbon capture technology. The pilot results will inform the decision for next-step development of a standalone facility for larger scale testing, as supported by the Department of Energy (DOE).

In regards to the market, the main challenges that FCE has faced relate to cost and efficiency.

“Our solution solves these problems as carbon capture is a side reaction of the normal electrochemical power generation process that occurs within the fuel cells of our power plants. This allows our carbon capture system to efficiently capture and concentrate carbon dioxide while generating additional power, rather than consuming it like other technologies,” Leo elucidated.

“In comparison, when applied to power generation systems, conventional carbon capture technologies consume about 20% of the plant’s overall power output. Our fuel cell plants therefore create a revenue stream of additional electricity and deliver a return on investment as compared to increasing operating expenses as seen with conventional separation technologies. Additionally, our fuel cell plants are scalable and can be added incrementally to achieve higher capture and produce a greater power output in a cost-effective manner.”

‘Reached out’

Alberta Innovates has been reviewing various carbon capture technologies to determine how best to reduce the carbon footprint of oil sands operations, using third party engineering companies like Jacobs Engineering to conduct the evaluation. Leo affirmed, “Alberta Innovates reached out to FCE because those studies indicated that our technology could be the most cost-effective approach.”

The Canadian oil sands are a key near-term market for carbon capture, gasworld understands, and this venture – if accomplished successfully – is likely to attract more business for FCE. “This project gives us the opportunity to develop our solution for a potential application and enhance these oil sands operations with affordable, efficient and clean carbon capture via fuel cells,” he said. “Oil sands producers are leaders in the industry and what we are able to achieve with this project may drive additional interest.”

FCE has made recent advancements in Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) development, particularly for storage applications. It is developing a market-driven energy storage system that utilises solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOEC) to affordably and efficiently convert excess power into hydrogen, an energy carrier, for long duration storage applications.

The company has confidence in its in its efforts and believes that with sustained innovation and strategic collaboration it can maintain its position as a leading global company.

Leo concluded, “The years of experience and extensive knowledge of the fuel cell industry represented by our associates is unparalleled. We are constantly advancing and enhancing our solutions to increase our value proposition of delivering turn-key power generation solutions, which includes both Service and Finance offerings.”

“We also align ourselves with strategic alliances such as ExxonMobil, E.ON, and Posco Energy to best serve the global market.”