Modeling the integration of thermoelectrics in anode exhaust combustors for waste heat recovery in fuel cell systems
Maghdouri Moghaddam, Anita
Jackson, Gregory Scott
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Recently developed small-scale hydrocarbon-fueled fuel cell systems for portable power under 1 kW have overall system efficiencies typically no higher than 30-35%. This study explores the possibility of using of thermoelectric waste heat recovery in anode exhaust combustors to improve the fuel cell system efficiencies by as much as 4-5% points and further to reduce required battery power during system start-up. Two models were used to explore this. The first model simulated an integrated SOFC system with a simplified catalytic combustor model with TEs integrated between the combustor and air preheating channels for waste heat recovery. This model provided the basis for assessing how much additional power can achieve during SOFC operation as a function of fuel cell operating conditions. Results for the SOFC system indicate that while the TEs may recover as much as 4% of the total fuel energy into the system, their benefit is reduced in part because they reduce the waste heat transferred back to the incoming air stream and thereby lower the SOFC operating temperatures and operating efficiencies. A second model transient model of a TE-integrated catalytic combustor explored the performance of the TEs during transient start-up of the combustor. This model incorporated more detailed catalytic combustion chemistry and enhanced cooling air fin heat transfer to show the dynamic heating of the integrated combustor. This detailed model provided a basis for exploring combustor designs and showed the importance of adequate reactant preheating when burning exhaust from a reformer during start-up for the TEs to produce significant power to reduce the size of system batteries for start-up.