The use of high temperature fuel cells, such as Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs), for power generation, is considered a very efficient and clean solution to conservation of energy resources. Especially when the SOFC is coupled with a gas turbine, the global system efficiency can go beyond 70% on natural gas LHV. However, the durability of the ceramic material and the system operability can be significantly penalized by thermal stresses due to temperature fluctuations and non-even temperature distributions. Thermal management of the cell during load following is therefore very critical.
The purpose of this work was to develop and test a pre-combustor model for real-time applications in hardware-based simulations, and to implement a control strategy in order to keep cathode inlet temperature as constant as possible during different operative conditions of the system. The real-time model of the pre-combustor was incorporated into the existing SOFC model and tested in a hybrid system facility, where a physical gas turbine and hardware components were coupled with a cyber-physical fuel cell for flexible, accurate, and cost-reduced simulations.
The control of the fuel flow to the pre-combustor was proven to be very effective in maintaining a constant cathode inlet temperature during a step change in fuel cell load. After imposing a 20 A load variation to the fuel cell, the controller managed to keep the temperature deviation from the nominal value below 0.3% (2 K). Temperature gradients along the cell were maintained below 10 K/cm. An efficiency analysis was performed in order to evaluate the impact of the pre-combustor on the overall system efficiency.