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Ambitions and fuel cells

VijayYesterday ExxonMobil announced details of an agreement with FuelCell Energy, Inc. that is nothing if not ambitious: Our joint research aims to stop greenhouse gas emissions from electric generating power plants.

At ExxonMobil, we have been researching carbon-capture technology for decades. Several years ago our scientists identified an opportunity to pursue a radically different approach, one involving carbonate fuel cells to both reduce emissions and increase power generation. This could potentially bend the carbon-capture cost curve downward while keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

So we sought the industry leaders in carbonate fuel-cell technology to test its application in pilot stages to help confirm what our researchers saw in the lab. That’s where FuelCell Energy comes in, to leverage their experience in fuel cell manufacturing and operation to help try to make this work at scale.

Of course, we are in the early days of this research. I’ll say upfront that it may not work the way we envision it; what makes sense in the lab may not translate at the massive scale required to deal with a 500-MW power plant.

But we have enough reason to think it might work someday, which explains our willingness to invest our time, our capital, and our scientific proficiency to investigate the transformative potential of this novel technology.

This is the kind of research I am really excited about, and the sort of endeavor ExxonMobil was built for – cutting-edge science with a long-term focus to provide critical solutions for society.

And it fits well with ExxonMobil’s broad R&D research portfolio. Since 2000, ExxonMobil has spent approximately $7 billion to develop lower-emission energy solutions. We also have some of the greatest scientific minds bringing their expertise to bear on complex energy challenges. We bring a lot to the table.

So do our partners at FuelCell Energy. I’m looking forward to marrying our scientific and technical capabilities to theirs as we seek to realize some truly grand ambitions.

Vijay Swarup is vice president of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.



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