Power generation systems utilizing PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cells, e.g. in telecommunication systems, are well-known for the use as back-up power generators. To operate this common type of electro-chemical converters makes necessary to have a hydrogen supply infrastructure that is usually only available in industrialised counties at high costs.
More advanced fuel cell generators and systems for continuous primary power supply in remote locations have been developed based on solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). This type of fuel cells operates with natural gas or Propane with a unique electrical efficiency of more than 30 % in the 0.5-3 kW range and allow an optional utilisation of waste heat from exhaust for heating of components and enclosures in cold climates reaching total efficiencies up to 80 %.
Initially, the focus was on applications in the Russian oil and gas industry to power infrastructure along transmission pipelines, like remote block and gate valves, cathodic protection, SCADA equipment and communication systems. Maintenance intervals of more than 12 month, a wide temperature range of operation, the capability of remote control and operation and low emissions makes the SOFC system an interesting alternative to thermoelectric and Diesel generator sets are common in this industry.
Solid oxide fuel cells have demonstrated reliable operation beyond 30,000 operation hours. Several hundred systems, mainly as micro-CHP (combined heat power) applications in Europe, have demonstrated low failure statistics. There are several remote power systems installed in Russia and Germany. Test operation for more than 10,000 hours in 24/7 mode was passed successfully with the purpose of certification at a Russian gas pipeline operator at a location in Siberia with outside temperatures down to -40 °C. Further installations have exceeded 25,000 h of continuous 24/7/365 operation and could demonstrate reliable operation and flexible adaption to load changes within the application.