PCI Fuel Processor Technology Chosen as Navy SBIR Success Story
NORTH HAVEN, CT (June 01, 2011)
The Navy has chosen PCI’s Microlith® fuel reformer and fuel processor development as a Navy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Success Story.
Fuel cells offer the potential for significantly improved mission performance and efficiency compared to conventional internal combustion engines. To achieve these improvements, fuel cell stacks must be able to operate on available logistic liquid fuels such as JP-8 rather than the hydrogen fuels they normally require. PCI’s Compact Logistics Fuel Processor efficiently converts conventional liquid fuels such as JP-8 to a hydrogen-rich gas that can be used in fuel cells. As a result, the technology offers a practical fueling solution to the military’s desire to use fuel cells.
Why does the military want fuel cells? American military success depends upon a (growing) supply of frontline electricity to run the advanced technical systems and operational processes that support American military advantage. Currently, internal combustion engines produce that electricity by burning available logistics fuels such as JP-8. For a forward Marine base in Afghanistan or a ship patrolling the Arabian Sea, fuel to produce that electricity is critical to mission success and warfighter safety. Yet supplying that fuel is challenging, requiring not just fuel purchases but also an entire logistics and defense chain, ranging from purchasing departments to armed convoys and supply aircraft traveling through hostile territory.
As a result, the military spends a substantial fraction of its budget and manpower to supply fuel to the front line – estimated by DoD to cost up to $400 per gallon when the tankers, ports, fuel trucks, convoys and troops assigned to support and supply defense are included. As a result, technology that enables less fuel use in forward locations offers large budgetary savings, well beyond the purchase cost of the fuel.
The military is interested in fuel cells for their potential for large fuel efficiency gains, and budgetary savings, as well as other benefits including silent operation, reduced maintainability and low emissions. But a primary barrier has been the fuel cell stack’s need for clean, hydrogen-rich gas as a fuel.
In an SBIR project beginning in 2004, PCI has developed a new Microlith® fuel processor to reform conventional military JP-8 (containing sulfur and other challenging components) to a hydrogen-rich reformate that can be directly used by solid oxide fuel cells or high temperature PEM fuel cells. Technology development was started under an Army SBIR project, which itself was selected as an Army SBIR success story, and picked up by the Navy SBIR program, which directed development to Navy shipboard and Marine Corps applications. The work was subsequently expanded to follow initial success and broaden the set of applications. Now PCI has fuel processors directed to fuel cells ranging in size from 1 kWe for frontline soldier use to 10 kWe for mobile and tactical generators to 250 kWe for shipboard fuel cell auxiliary power units (APUs). Multiple fuel cell stacks and stack technologies have been mated to the PCI reformer. A Ford Motor Company plant is currently operating a PCI fuel processor to reform recovered paint solvents from a paint process.
A separate Navy SBIR project with PCI also developed an alternative reformer focused on high efficiency hydrogen production. The technology has also been further extended for use in civilian fuel cells including the use of renewable fuels. PCI’s fuel processors are now also in test as large natural gas reformers and syngas generators for a range of applications.
PCI’s technology in particular has led to very compact, lightweight and efficient fuel processors that respond rapidly to changing fuel flows. The systems are fuel-flexible, sulfur-tolerant and coking-resistant. Their compact size make them especially suitable for mobile applications, including vehicles and ships, as well as enabling lower cost. Almost complete reformation effectiveness leads to longer fuel cell stack life. Integrated sulfur-removal technology eliminates sulfur before it can reach the fuel cell stack. Balance of plant development has led to independent fuel processor systems capable of operating with a range of fuel cell stacks. The technology is readily scalable, based on ultra-compact reforming reactors ranging in size from D-cell batteries for 1 kWe soldier fuel cells to “1 gallon-size” for 250 kWe shipboard fuel cells. This has resulted in unusually compact fuel processing systems based upon these reactors.
Navy SBIR Success Stories are selected based upon Navy SBIR technology development results and the company’s success in transitioning the technology towards products, tools, or services that benefit the Navy acquisition community. PCI’s original DoD SBIR projects have now led to numerous Navy, Army and commercial industrial projects developing the technology toward shipboard applications, vehicle APU's, tactical gensets, unmanned vehicles, and combustion improvement. Major prime contractors and system developers have begun to include PCI’s fuel processor in their fuel cell systems. Suppliers have gained new business supporting PCI’s new products. Newer technology has been created, and a series of patents filed and issued.
As a result, PCI has grown; employment relating to fuel processors has increased ten-fold. Continued Phase III development programs have allowed the company to develop Microlith reformers and fuel processors into a platform technology now finding opportunity in a growing set of applications. PCI’s President Kevin Burns states, “We are grateful for the opportunities we have been given through the Navy SBIR program, and look forward to delivering fuel processors meeting the Navy’s acquisition needs.”
Precision Combustion, Inc. is a clean energy technology company developing and manufacturing catalytic devices and systems for energy sector applications. To learn more, visit www.precision-combustion.com.
The U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program seeks to stimulate technological innovation through competitive solicitations targeted to solve government agency objectives. Approximately one in eight Phase I proposals are funded for proof-of-concept R&D, with 40%-45% of those advancing to a Phase II for sustained development. Winners keep the rights to technology developed and are encouraged to commercialize the technology.
For more information, contact: Tony Anderson
Manager, Marketing and Business Development