Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 12

Submission by Rolls-Royce Fuel Cells Systems


  1.1  RRFCS, a majority owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce plc, is engaged in the commercial development of Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for use primarily in localised power distribution. Based in Loughborough, RRFCS has locations overseas in the US and Singapore. The Company currently employs 108 people in the UK of whom 75% are graduates and 30% have PhDs.

  1.2  The practical application of solid oxide fuel cells is at an early stage but the advanced engineering work at RRFCS has identified how the technology can be taken forward in the future.

  1.3  The intellectual property of RRFCS resides in the UK and the USA and the Company undertakes significant research activity overseas with around 25% undertaken in UK universities.

  1.4  The early products will serve the Distributed Generation market with high efficiency low emission products with a cost of electricity approximately equivalent to the incumbent heat engines.


  In 2002 Rolls-Royce plc made the decision to commercialise 10 years of strategic research work into Solid Oxide Fuel Cells and established a unit to undertake this task. To improve access to mass ceramic manufacturing skills and to off set some of the cost of fuel cell development, Rolls-Royce plc sold 25% of the equity to a Singaporean consortium, "EnerTek", in 2005. All Rolls-Royce plc's Fuel cell related Intellectual Property was transferred to this majority owned subsidiary.


  RRFCS's Headquarters is located in Loughborough close to the University and it is in this location that cell development and systems integration is undertaken. The major test facilities are located in Derby, which is the site of Rolls-Royce plc's civil aero-engine operation. There are also subsidiaries in the USA, which undertake fuel processing and in Singapore, for research and automated mass manufacturing technology of ceramic components. Singapore will also host the first manufacturing facility.


  The Company currently employs about 108 people in the UK, of whom around 75% are graduates including 14 from overseas. Of the Graduate population around 30% have PhD's. There are also 22 trainees, and 23 temporary employees in the UK. A further 50 people are directly employed in the US and Singapore.


  5.1  The RRFCS initial focus is the sale in 2010 of 1MW pressurised Fuel Cell Systems with high efficiency, negligible emissions of nitrogen and sulphur oxides and particulates. Performance at part load and in high temperature will be superior to heat engines.

  5.2  The total system will be city centre friendly with an excellent safety case, no requirement for stored gases or unacceptable noise or vibration.

  5.3  The target cost of electricity is no higher than current products serving the distributed generation market.

  5.4  With long term development, efficiencies of 70% are possible before waste heat recovery.


  6.1  A number of technical disciplines are needed to achieve the performance objectives, these are built in five subsystems. Not all the skills needed are available to RRFCS in the UK.

  6.2  Natural gas is not pure methane and requires processing before it can be used by the fuel cell stack and the stack is sensitive to the fuel conditions during start up and shut down. This technology is being developed in the RRFCS unit in the USA.

  6.3  The fuel cell stack has to be enclosed on the right environment requiring aero thermal. The stack and aero thermal management are the central activities of the Loughborough site.

  6.4  A specialised small micro turbine (equivalent to20kW) is required. The Rolls-Royce plc unit in Indianapolis is developing the unit.

  6.5  Fuel cells deliver direct current and power electronics are required to connect to the alternating current system of the grid. The development of this sub-sytem is done by M Technologies in the USA partly because of familiarity with USA codes and standards.

  6.6  There are therefore five subsystems requiring safe control. The UK branch of Data Systems and Solutions (a Rolls-Royce subsidiary) are carrying out this task.


  7.1  Important test facilities have been established in Derby including 30 rigs operating at atmospheric pressure and three presurised rigs. There is one Test Bed capable of testing all subsystems together at 250kW. With DTI assistance a further three 15kW pressurised rigs are being built for endurance testing of fuel cell stack.

  7.2  Customer verification is planned initially in the USA with American Electric Power at their test site near Columbus Ohio. Up to three 1MW units are planned for testing in a controlled customer environment during 2008 and 2009.


  8.1  RRFCS activity involves significant research activity and as a result the company has an extensive partnership with a number of UK and overseas universities. These include in the UK:

    —  Loughborough University—materials characterisation, development of ceramic nanomaterials and product lifecycle / recycling strategy.

    —  Imperial College—electrochemistry and development of cathode and current collector/interconnect materials.

    —  St. Andrews University—development of next generation anode and current collector materials.

    —  Strathclyde University—development of advanced laser-based instrumentation methods.

    —  A number of smaller activities with the Universities of Cambridge, Surrey, and Birmingham.

  And overseas:

    —  The University of Genoa—system modelling and experimentation; and

    —  The A*Star Institutes in Singapore.

  8.2  Imperial College, Strathclyde University and St. Andrews University are partners in the programme supported by the DTI.

  8.3  RRFCS directly funds £1.0 million of research work in Universities and technical institutes of which £0.25 million is undertaken in the UK.


  9.1  RRFCS draws on the expertise and capability of a range of UK businesses to support the programme; for example GEM, ESL and MEL supply active materials and inks; Metalcraft and PreciSpark are active in metal components, whilst RiskTec and a number of small consultancies provide specialist advice.

  9.2  Bosal is responsible for the manufacture of the internal reformers, where the requirements as similar to automotive catalytic converter designs. Bosal also provide insulation product.

  9.3  Inmatec in Germany manufactures the ceramic substrate on which the Cells are printed. RRFCS is also currently seeking a full production supply chain partner.

10.  USA

  The RRFCS US facility is located in Canton, Ohio where R&D activities in fuel processing and fuel cells is performed with financial assistance from the Dept. of Energy and the State of Ohio. M. Technologies in Massachusetts are also engaged in developing the Firmware and Software for the power electronics subsystem.


  Construction of the first manufacturing facility will commence in 2008 for the production of stack and tiers.


  12.1  The Carbon Footprint of the RRFCS technology is dependent on a number of variables including fuel, how it is used, the ambient conditions at which comparisons are made and the output streams. The carbon capture from fuels generally depends on having a viable infrastructure for sequestration, use in enclosed crop production, or carbon recycling.

  12.2  Fuel Cells have a practical advantage over central power stations running on bio-fuels, as they can be co-located with the fuel source avoiding a substantial portion of the transport issues associated with bringing the fuel to the point of use.

  12.3  The need for reduced Carbon emissions will be driven by economic necessity. Regulations framed to achieve improved performance will be aimed at minimising the overall economic impact. Bio-fuels are particularly difficult to evaluate because of their variability, harvesting, processing and transportation costs. To give the Committee a sense of the potential if necessity drove the regulations regardless of the first cost and operating cost then it is possible to envisage that SOFC hybrids working on bio-fuels produced from food production waste could be carbon reducing after carbon capture.

  12.4  The following table give some comparisons of Carbon Foot print.


  NG = Natural Gas

  CCGT = Combined Cycle Gas Turbine

  SOFC = Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (the technology use by RRFCS.

  hybrid = Pressurisation by Micro-turbine

  Coal IG-CCGT = Coal Integrated Gasification- Combined Cycle Gas Turbine

Figure 1

Well to wire CO2 emissions for conventional generation and SOFC hybrids compared. The more direct approach used for CO2 capture in the SOFC hybrid results in almost complete capture

Figure 2

CO2 emission footprints for a range of approaches to providing end domestic energy users with both power and heat


  Advanced engineering work at RRFCS has identified how the technology can be taken forward in the future.

13.1  Power Density

  The current design that is expected to enter revenue service in 2010 has a power density close to 400W per litre of stack. This power density can potentially be developed to give approx 3,000W per litre of stack. This will require research into the fundamentals of the science of thin layers operating at high temperatures and the movement of gases within them over extended periods of time. Power density will bring the added benefit of lower first cost and operating costs.

13.2  Water

  The gas output from the cells is sufficiently clean for the production of water either for human consumption with limited additional treatment or directly for irrigation or other "grey" water uses. Unlike the output from a heat engine useful quantities can be produced at high ambient temperatures. Six tonnes per 1MW of power output per day at 40°C can be achieved. Water will be a valuable additional output for areas that are short of fresh water.

13.3  Fuel Flexibility

  The challenge for the future is likely to be met by a variety of fuels especially if bio-fuels are a greater part of the mix in the future. The fuel process technology built into the first product is capable of development over a broad range of potential fuels.

    13.3.1  Differing climatic and soil conditions will create a wide variety of bio-fuel possibilities and the key to efficient exploitation will be the ability to generate power locally from locally available fuels. This will reduce fuel transportation inefficiencies.

    13.3.2  Highly efficient generation by water generative units close to the point of use will be essential to balancing land use between energy creation and food production.

13.4  Hydrogen

  Fuel Cells being a chemical device are an example of a reversible process. Concepts exist for applying the technology to the production of high purity hydrogen from available fuels close to the point of use (eg a hydrogen filling station). The energy density of hydrogen is low unless the technical and safety challenges of extremely high pressure storage are solved. A practical solution for industry and transport could be to distribute carbon based fuels and generate hydrogen where it is required.

13.5  Carbon Capture

  In the chart covering the carbon footprint the benefits of carbon capture can be seen. Well designed Fuel Cell systems can be adapted to capture a very high percentage of the carbon in the fuel for a modest reduction in efficiency.

  The fundamental difference between a fuel cell system and heat engine is that the carbon dioxide is created in the fuel circuit and therefore not in air. There are economic penalties in the form of increased capital cost, operating cost and loss of efficiency that need careful benefit analysis before regulations are drafted to require carbon capture, but studies exist that suggest the penalties are smaller for Fuel cells than for other technologies.

13.6  Carbon Recycling

  Carbon Capture brings with it the cost and inefficiencies of carbon sequestration at least where this does not contribute to enhanced oil extraction. RRFCS has developed concepts for using captured carbon and recycling it into hydrocarbon fuels for ease of transportation. One use could be to create liquid fuels for aviation from biomass.

13.7  New materials

  All of the above can be enhanced by the development of advanced materials for the use in the construction of the cells.


  RRFCS has been supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and East Midlands Development Agency in the UK. These currently supports two technology programmes totalling £20 million of which £10 million of grant has been received. This support also underpins collaboration with a number of industrial and academic partners including MEL, ESL, Scitek, St.Andrews, Imperial, and Strathclyde universities.


15.1  Engineering

  The Committee may be interested in the relative cost comparisons of engineering expertise in those locations in which RRFCS operates:

Annual cost of a qualified engineer with two to three years experience:

£ 32-37k
£ 19-22k pa
Post Doctorate Research Assistant:
Singapore A*Star Institute

15.2  Public support

  UK 50% for approved R&D programmes

  USA 50-80% with local state additions

  Singapore 50% for research, 30-50% for training and technology transfer.

  The RRFCS policy is to locate activities where support is economically attractive provide the programme aligns with the commercial objectives of the Business.


  16.1  Fuel cells offer a replacement for heat engines to reduce emission levels economically, using today's fuel infrastructure. Based on the RRFCS example much but not all of the necessary intellectual property, skill sets and academic teams exist in the UK. The fuel cell industry is in its infancy with many avenues to explore all of which are environmentally beneficial and can benefit security of supply in the future. Exploitation of these avenues will enhance the ability to establish and lead a new global industry.

  16.2  Studies have shown that the UK lags behind other countries in investment in fuel cell development, most notably the USA and Japan, with arguably inferior results but this apparent lead is not permanent. There is evidence that concepts pioneered by RRFCS are being explored and adopted by potential competitors who operate in a much more flexible and efficient national support regime than the UK. Economic incentives to carry out research and development abroad can erode the UK knowledge base over time. This is a process that is increasingly having an effect on the locus of activities of RRFCS.

July 2007

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