BCIA’s annual program of postgraduate research scholarships is part of our commitment to strategic investment in skills development to secure the scientific, engineering and trades expertise required for the development of new low-emissions brown coal technologies.

In 2010, BCIA awarded five research scholarships to PhD candidates at top-ranking Australian universities. Adam Rady, from Monash University, is one of the scholarship recipients and has provided the following update on his project titled ‘Evaluation of Victorian Brown Coal as Fuel for Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC)’.

Evaluation of Victorian Brown Coal as Fuel
for Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC)

By Adam Rady, Monash University PhD Candidate and BCIA Scholarship Awardee

My research is focused on the properties of fuels, which influence their performance within direct carbon fuel cells (DCFCs). More specifically I am using Victorian brown coals from the Yallourn, Morwell and Loy Yang sites within a direct carbon solid oxide fuel cell (direct carbon SOFC).

A major part of my research to date has been in the form of a literature review entitled ‘Review of fuels for direct carbon fuel cells’, which has been accepted by the journal Energy & Fuels. As the name suggests, the review is focused on different fuels used to date by researchers within DCFCs. The review highlights a lack in variety of fuels trialled within DCFCs, with carbon black and activated carbon as the researchers’ fuels of choice. In all DCFCs, only one type of coal (bituminous coal) has been tested. The trial of a low rank coal in Victorian brown coal within DCFCs will not only significantly enhance the understanding of fuel-based performance of these fuel cells, but will also illustrate the potential of this technology in being a large-scale producer of clean energy. The capacity for DCFCs to operate on any solid source of carbonaceous fuel is a major advantage of this technology and is one that is yet to be properly investigated.

Preparation of coal samples is another important and necessary element of this study and a variety of chars have been generated from Victorian brown coals. The chars were produced via pyrolysis of the air-dried coals to remove volatile components. Chars have also been produced from demineralised coals to gain a better appreciation of the importance of mineral matter, present in the coal, in catalysing reactions occurring in the cell.

Preliminary gasification data has been obtained from these chars using Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) to assess the influence of mineral matter on gasification kinetics. This is relevant to my research as gasification reactions are now

known to be controlling mechanisms in the operation of direct carbon SOFCs. The TGA data shows a strong relationship between ash constituents and gasification kinetics. There is also significant variation in gasification performances between the three coal types used and it is expected that this will translate to relative cell performance.

Generating data from these fuel cells is the current stage of this research. It is expected that the first results from the use of a low rank coal within a DCFC will be available in time for presentation at the second International Symposium on the Sustainable Use of Low Rank Coal. These results will be preliminary, but will provide a valuable insight into future potential uses of this abundant resource. Also, as DCFCs are capable of operating in the 80–95% efficiency range, it is expected that these results will demonstrate the most efficient utilisation of a low rank coal to date. It is also possible that we will achieve the highest power density ever obtained from a direct carbon SOFC due to some favourable properties of Victorian brown coal (in particular its mineral make-up).

BCIA is also supporting Adam Rady as a Young Energy Professional at the International Symposium on the Sustainable Use of Low Rank Coal being held in Melbourne, 16–18 April 2012.

If you would like to know more about Adam’s project, he is happy for you to approach him at the Symposium.