Simanaitis Says

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FOLKS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE’S Advanced Power and Energy Program kindly keep me posted of their work with fuel cells of one type and another. See UCI’s work on “Tri-Generation—A Next Step in Energy Efficiency” and “UCI’s Hydrogen Battery.”

This latest Bridging: Engineering Science to Practical Application describes UCI APEP’s involvement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hysteel project; its goal, to clean up one of the more carbonaceous human endeavors, the production of steel. Here are tidbits gleaned from Bridging together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

Making Steel. Steelmaking, Wikipedia says, “is  the process of producing steel from iron ore and/or scrap. In steelmaking, impurities such as nitrogensiliconphosphorussulfur and excess carbon (the most important impurity) are removed from the sourced iron, and alloying elements such as manganesenickelchromium, carbon and vanadium are added to produce different grades of steel.” 

Though undertaken for millennia, the activity wasn’t commercial until the mid-19th century’s Bessemer  and Siemens-Martin processes. Bessemer converters continued until being phased out in the late 1960s; Seimens-Martin open-hearths, until the late 1990s. These were replaced at least in part because of the more efficient basic oxygen furnace and, more recently, by the electric arc furnace.

These days, Bridging says, “Steel production continues to be the most impactful sector in our economy in terms of carbon emissions…. The industry interest towards novel decarbonization technologies and feasibility studies has skyrocketed and the low-carbon steel community is rapidly growing.”

Cleaner Steel, in Theory. UCI APEP is studying the use of Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cells to produce renewable hydrogen that can be used to convert raw iron ore (Fe2O3) into iron (Fe) through a process called hydrogen direct reduced iron.

This and the following image from Bridging, Annual Report 2022.

To amplify on these terms, SOECs are fuel cells that have a ceramic solid electrolyte instead of the (automotive-application) PEM fuel cell’s polymer. One advantage is enhanced efficiency, even by fuel cell standards. Their extreme operating temperatures (700-800 degrees Celsius, about 1300-1470 degrees Fahrenheit) can be tapped in “hybrid” fuel cell efficiencies of 75 percent and higher.

A Personal Digression. Back a decade ago, I finagled an invitation from UCI to hear APEP’s Jack Brouwer speak on hybrid fuel cells. Gee, I thought it would have something to do with PEM hybrid cars…. Ha. His presentation was on fundamental research with these SOECs. 

By the way, Jack is now Director of APEP as well as its National Fuel Cell Research Center. Scott Samuelsen, who introduced me to UCI’s NFCRC, continues at UCI as APEP’s Founding Director. 

HDR = Carbon-free. Bridging reports that the process of hydrogen direct reduced iron has only water as a by-product: “The team expects that the SOEC thermal and electrochemical integration with the DRI system will reduce the primary energy consumption and CO2 emissions by more than 30 and 40%, respectively.”

Design Phase. Bridging says, “The project is now at the design phase for the laboratory-scale unit, which will integrate an SOEC module with a simulated HDR furnace using a ‘Hardware-in-the-Loop’ concept. The 10 Nm3/day hydrogen production capacity SOEC unit will be manufactured and installed at the FuelCell energy site in Danbury, Connecticut.

Another Personal Note. My undergraduate years at Worcester Poly benefited from a scholarship from United States Steel Corporation, and I once had opportunity to visit a traditional steel mill. The tapping of an open hearth is quite an amazing feat to behold. I suspect the SOEC/HDR process would be equally impressive and environmentally a helluva lot more friendly. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023


  1. John Mcnulty
    March 23, 2023

    Back in 1971 I started teaching high school Industrial Arts. First three years had to teach one class of 7th graders. To help the youngsters under stand character of metals, I showed them a Disney film with Donald Duck. The film started with the discovery of iron and progressed to “modern times”. Donald made a sword out of cast iron. Of course you know what happened. It would snap, then bend etc. By accident some carbon from the fire was mixed with the iron. Many people get confuse when I say steel is an alloy. My 1966 plus 4 does have an alloy body, aluminum, but cars with steel body can also be called an alloy.
    In 1985, NYS dropped IA and changed over to Technology Education. I started in 1971 teaching Technology. Got a lot of s..h in the beginning, but they came around.

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