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Havy Taps ERC For Fuel Cell Development

Energy Research Corp. (ERC) received a $1.6 million contract from the Naval Surface Warfare Center - Carderock Division to develop the ERC Direct Fuel Cell for naval applications.

This contract is part of a larger effort by the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Sea Systems Command to demonstrate fuel cell power systems for naval applications.

R&D Expanded The contract covers initial design using readily available naval fuels in ERC's carbonate fuel cell to develop a 500 kW system for sea trials at a future date.

"This is an important step in the company's efforts to develop diverse applications for its fuel cell technology," said Jerry Leitman, president and CEO. "Direct Fuel Cell powerplants for naval and commercial ships are a potential large market application. The Direct Fuel Cells could be used to supply either shipboard auxiliary power or propulsion power." The ERC Direct Fuel Cell can use a variety of commonly available fuels with a minimum of fuel processing equipment.

In the Navy program, the ERC intends to focus its approach on using liquid fuels which are currently available aboard ships. One of the processes to be studied is the upgrading of Navy fuel to methane (similar to natural gas).

Converting the liquid fuel to methane requires no energy input. The ERC system —using natural gas — has reportedly demonstrated, on a MW scale, that it is highly efficient.

Other advantages — aside from high fuel efficiency — touted by the manufacturer are silent operation and negligible air pollution.

Fuel Cells Explained Fuel cells produce electricity from a variety of fuels by an electrochemical process akin to that found in batteries, with the exception that a fuel cell will produce energy as long as fuel and air are supplied, which likens it to a conventional engine.

However, in a fuel cell, unlike an engine, the fuel and air do not come in contact with each other so there is no fuel combustion. This results in a quiet, clean and efficient use of fuel.

In most fuel cells, the fuel is first converted into a hydrogen-rich feedstock in external processing equipment. In the ERC Direct Fuel Cell, this equipment is eliminated and a fuel such as natural gas is fed directly to the fuel cell. This leads to a more efficient use of the energy content of the fuel and requires less capital equipment. ERC is hopeful that the navy work will help it to further develop similar systems for the commercial maritime market.

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