The near-term commercial success for many fuel cell technologies will rely on their ability to utilize current infrastructure fuels. Several large ready-markets exist for fuel cell systems that utilize middle distillate petroleum fractions like diesel fuel. One particular application is diesel-based auxiliary power units (APU). Unfortunately, very little research and development has been devoted to this application. Ongoing research at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and other organizations is trying to address this need. In order for a fuel cell to utilize diesel fuel, it must be reformed into a synthesis gas containing primarily hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, steam and possibly methane. Because catalytic reforming of hydrocarbon fuels is conducted at the same relative operating temperatures of technologies like solid oxide fuel cells (800–1000°C) a high degree of thermal integration is possible. Unfortunately, carbon deposition and sulfur poisoning of catalysts in the reformer and fuel cell make system operation potentially complicated and costly. To help understand and quantify the impact of these issues on technology development and component, a number of systems analysis was conducted for a diesel-based fuel cell system. One particular system based on a hybrid combustor/reformer concept allowed for excellent utilization of available heat from the fuel cell and yielded an overall fuel to electric conversion efficiency of nearly 50%. This paper discusses its salient features and compares its characteristics to other possible system configurations.

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