The concept of hybrids combining fuel cell and gas turbine systems is without question neoteric, and probably is less than eight years old. However, this concept is in a sense a logical development derived from the many early systems that embodied the key features of rotating machinery to compress air. It was the introduction of high temperature fuel cells such as the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that allowed the concept of hybrid gas turbine fuel cell systems to take root. The SOFC with an operating temperature circa 1000° C matched well with small industrial gas turbines that had firing temperatures on the same order.

The recognition that the SOFC could be substituted for the gas turbine combustor was the first step into the realm of fuel cell topping systems. Fuel cells in general were recognized as having higher efficiencies at elevated pressures. Thus the hybrid topping system where the gas turbine pressurized the fuel cell and the fuel cell supplied the hot gases for expansion over the turbine promised to provide a high level of synergy between the two systems.

Bottoming systems using the exhaust of a gas turbine as the working fluid of a fuel cell such as the molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) have been identified and are potential future power generation hybrid systems. The MCFC is especially well suited to the bottoming role because of the need to have carbon dioxide present in the inlet air stream. The carbon dioxide in the gas turbine exhaust allows the high temperature blower, normally used to recirculate and inject exhaust products into the inlet air, to be eliminated.

Hybrid systems have the potential of achieving fossil fuel to electricity conversion efficiencies on the order of 70% and higher. The costs of hybrid systems in dollars per kilowatt are generally higher than say an advanced gas turbine that is available today but not by much. The net energy output over the life of a hybrid topping system is similar to that of a recuperated gas turbine but possibly lower than a high-efficiency simple-cycle machine, depending on the efficiency of the hybrid.

Methodologies to aid in the selection of the hybrid system for future development have to be developed and used consistently. Life cycle analyses (LFA) provide a framework for such selection processes. In particular the concept of net energy output provides a mechanism to assign relative worth to competing concepts.

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