Fuel cells are under development for a range of applications for transport, stationary and portable power appliances. Fuel cell technology has advanced to the stage where commercial field trials for both transport and stationary applications are in progress. Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC) utilize solid carbon as the fuel and have historically attracted less investment than other types of gas or liquid fed fuel cells. However, volatility in gas and oil commodity prices and the increasing concern about the environmental impact of burning heavy fossil fuels for power generation has led to DCFCs gaining more attention within the global study community. A DCFC converts the chemical energy in solid carbon directly into electricity through its direct electrochemical oxidation. The fuel utilization can be almost 100% as the fuel feed and product gases are distinct phases and thus can be easily separated. This is not the case with other fuel cell types for which the fuel utilization within the cell is typically limited to below 85%. The theoretical efficiency is also high, around 100%. The combination of these two factors, lead to the projected electric efficiency of DCFC approaching 80% - approximately twice the efficiency of current generation coal fired power plants, thus leading to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of CO2 for storage/sequestration is also halved. Moreover, the exit gas is an almost pure CO2 stream, requiring little or no gas separation before compression for sequestration. Therefore, the energy and cost penalties to capture the CO2 will also be significantly less than for other technologies. Furthermore, a variety of abundant fuels such as coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste can be used. Despite these advantages, the technology is at an early stage of development requiring solutions to many complex challenges related to materials degradation, fuel delivery, reaction kinetics, stack fabrication and system design, before it can be considered for commercialization. This paper, following a brief introduction to other fuel cells, reviews in detail the current status of the direct carbon fuel cell technology, recent progress, technical challenges and discusses the future of the technology.
International Letters of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy (Volume 49)