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Publication# Control Scenarios for an SOFC System

Abstract

This report is intended to summarize the work of a semester project conducted on a gPROMS model (developed in LENI) of an existing stand-alone 1kW solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system. Different means of controlling the cathode gas temperature with single-input-single-output PID controllers were investigated. Particular attention was directed to the issue of erroneous thermocouple readings due to radiation and how this error can be minimized. It was shown that the discrepancy between thermocouple reading and real temperature depends strongly on the method used to control the temperature. In some cases, the incorrect thermocouple reading can be fatal for the system even in regular operation. With this basic type of PID controller, lambda control was shown to be the scenario with the smallest discrepancy. However, it is still non-negligible and a more advanced control approach should be investigated before an implementation on the physical system.

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Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy from fuel directly into electrical and thermal energy. They present high electrical efficiency and because of this feature they are considered to be an important power source alternative. However, due to their high temperature of operation, SOFCs are subject to degradation, that is, their ability to produce electricity deteriorates in time. The reasons and the conditions that contribute to degradation are multiple. Among the studied factors, operating temperature is an important one. It has been found that a stable and controllable thermal environment can mitigate this undesirable phenomenon. Therefore, the pursuit of appropriate thermal conditions during their operation is of paramount importance for their lifetime and consequently for their commercialisation. Studying and obtaining such conditions is also known as thermal management. Another important point regarding the study of SOFCs is the development and use of adequate mathematical models that the engineer and generally the researcher will use as tools to analyse their behaviour and will determine conditions for safe and efficient operation. For practical applications, these models must be validated against experimental data. The result of such validation is the determination, or calibration, of the model parameters so that the output of the model fits measurements taken in the laboratory to the best possible extent. This process is called parameter estimation or system identification. This thesis tackles both aspects. In its first part it works on the thermal management of a specific product, an SOFC autonomous unit fed with methane, producing electrical power and liberating hot off-gases that can be used as a source of thermal power. A dynamic model of the physical system is developed and validated against experimental data. During this process, it was found that measurement of gas temperatures using thermocouples may be severely biased due to radiation effects of surrounding solids to the thermocouples. In order to overcome this hurdle, the phenomena that take place around the thermocouple were incorporated into the system's mathematical model. Such a systematic error may have important consequences on the thermal management and generally on the control of the SOFC system. Indeed, an investigation effectuated in this thesis revealed how incorrect gas temperature measurements affect the system's control to such an extent that, depending on the conditions, may lead to system failure. The validation of the system model proved to be particularly challenging. This fact incited the author to investigate the factors that contribute to reliable parameter estimations. This is the subject of the second part of this thesis. A first study was performed on model-based Design of Experiments (DoE) for SOFC button cells, i.e. on how measurements on small cells may be optimised. To our knowledge the study treats for the first time the issue of repetitive measurements and their impact on the quality of parameter estimation systematically. It distinguishes the notion of measurements, which can be repetitive, from that of measurement points (or design points), which are defined once for an experiment. Introducing a new type of graph that provide information on quality criteria as functions of the number of measurement points for constant number of measurements, it stresses the importance of repetitions of measurements during experiments, which up to now has been neglected. A mathematical formula is also given that helps the experimenter define the necessary number of repetitions for a specific degree of precision of the information matrix. The theoretical findings on Design of Experiments are validated experimentally with measurements on button cells. The thesis introduces a novel method with which repetitive parameter estimations are obtained using data from polarisation curves. This method allows the calculation of histograms for the model parameters approximating this way their stochastic behaviour. Standard deviations, covariance and correlation matrices are calculated directly from the available data, avoiding the approximate calculation based on sensitivity (Jacobian) matrices. The experimental results showed again the importance of repetitions on the quality of parameter estimation. A rule-of-thumb is introduced suggesting that the number of repetitions of measurements needs to be at least equal to the number of calculated parameters plus three in order to avoid high correlations. However, repetitions do not influence the values of parameters or the fit to the experimental data, but their precision. These values are influenced by the number of measurement points. Another point of importance shown in this thesis is that there is a counterbalance between the parameters' variances and covariances and their correlations, that is, if the one improves, the other deteriorates. This is demonstrated to be in accordance with the Cramèr-Rao theorem in statistics. A consequence of this is the conclusion that parameter estimation cannot be obtained to an arbitrarily high precision. Another consequence is that assessment of system identification based on only one of the widely known criteria may not be adequate, a result that concurs with the findings of other authors in the field of DoE. Finally the available results from the afore-mentioned method revealed a potential relation between correlations of parameters and the non-uniformity of their histograms. Among the investigated examples, a case of fast degradation exhibits how the introduced parameter estimation method may be used as a diagnostics tool. However such a use requires the employment of models that describe the phenomena adequately, especially after degradation. The thesis ends with the calculation of the histograms of the parameters of the SOFC unit's heat exchanger providing a stochastic perspective of parameter estimation at an SOFC system level.

The control of the current, position and shape of an elongated cross-section tokamak plasma is complicated by the instability of the plasma vertical position. In this case the control becomes a significant problem when saturation of the power supplies is considered. Current saturation is relatively benign due to the integrating nature of the tokamak, resulting in a reasonable time horizon for strategically handling this problem. On the other hand, voltage saturation is produced by the feedback controller itself, with no intrinsic delay. In practice, during large plasma disturbances, such as sawteeth, ELMs and minor disruptions, voltage saturation of the power supply can occur and as a consequence the vertical position control can be lost. If such a loss of control happens the plasma displaces vertically and hits the wall of the vessel, which can cause damage to the tokamak. The consideration and study of voltage saturation is especially important for ITER. Due to the size and therefore the cost of ITER, there will naturally be smaller margins in the Poloidal Field coil power supplies implying that the feedback will experience actuator saturation during large transients due to a variety of plasma disturbances. The next generation of tokamaks under construction will require vertical position and active shape control and will be fully superconducting. When the magnetic transverse field in superconducting magnets changes, the magnet generates two types of heat loss, the so-called coupling loss and the so-called hysteresis loss, grouped together as AC losses. Superconducting coils possess superconducting properties only below a critical temperature around a few K. AC losses are detrimental since they heat up the superconducting material. Thus, if AC losses are too large, the cryogenic plant can no longer hold the required temperature to maintain the superconductivity properties. Once the superconductivity is lost, the electric currents in the coils produce an enormous heat loss due to the ohmic resistivity, which can lead to a possible damage to the coils. In general, the coils are designed with enough margin to absorb all likely losses. A possible loss reduction could allow us to downsize the superconducting cross section in the cables, reducing the overall cost, or simply increase the operational cooling margin for given coils. In this thesis we have tried to take into consideration these two major problems. The thesis is therefore focused on the following main objectives: i) the stability analysis of the tokamak considering voltage saturation of the power supplies and ii) the proposition of a new controller which enhances the stability properties of the tokamak under voltage saturation and iii) the proposition of a controller which takes into consideration the problem of reducing the AC losses. The subject of the thesis is therefore situated in an interdisciplinary framework and as a result the thesis is subdivided into two principal parts. The first part is devoted to tokamak physics and engineering, while the second part focuses on control theory. In the tokamak physics and engineering part we present the linear tokamak models and the nonlinear tokamak code used for the controller design and the validation of the new proposed controller. The discussion is especially focused on the presence of a single unstable pole when the vertical plasma position is unstable since this characteristic is essential for the work presented in the control theory part. In order to determine the enhancement of the stability properties we have to bring the new proposed controller to its stability limits by means of large disturbances. Validation by means of simulations with either linear or nonlinear tokamak models are imperatively required before considering the implementation of the new controller on a tokamak in operation. A linear tokamak model will probably be inadequate since large disturbances can move its state outside its validity regions. A full nonlinear tokamak evolution code like DINA is indispensable for this purpose. We give a detailed description of the principal plasma physics implemented in the DINA code. Additionally, validation of DINA is provided by comparing TCV experimental VDE responses with DINA code simulations. To allow a study of the AC losses reduction, the nature of the AC losses has to be reduced to a simplified form. We analyse to what extent the accumulated AC losses in ITER could be reduced by taking into account the losses themselves when designing the feedback control loops. In order to be able to carry out this investigation a simple and fast AC loss model, referred to as "AC-CRPP" model, is proposed. In the control theory part we study the stability region in state space, referred to as the region of attraction, for linear tokamak-like systems with input saturation (voltage saturation) and a linear state feedback. Only linear systems with a single unstable pole (mode) and a single saturated input are considered. We demonstrate that the characterisation of the region of attraction is possible for a second order linear system with one unstable and one stable pole. For such systems the region of attraction possesses a topological bifurcation and we provide an analytical condition under which this bifurcation occurs. Since the analysis relies on methodologies like Poincaré and Bendixson's theorems which are unfortunately only valid for second order systems it is evident that there is no way to apply the results for second order systems to higher order systems. It turned out that the search for characterising the region of attraction for higher order systems was illusory and thus this research direction had to be abandoned. We therefore focused on controllers for which the region of attraction is the maximal region of attraction that can be achieved under input saturation. This region is referred to as the null controllable region and its characterisation is simple for any arbitrary high order system possessing a single unstable pole. We present a new globally stabilising controller for which its region of attraction is equal to the null controllable region. This result is obtained by incorporating a simple continuous nonlinear function into a linear state feedback controller. There are several advantages linked to this new controller: i) the stability properties are enhanced, ii) the performance, AC loss reduction and fast disturbance rejection, can be taken into account, iii) the controller can be applied to any arbitrary high order system and iv) the controller possesses a simple structure which simplifies the design procedure. We close the control theory part by focusing on the application of the proposed new controller to tokamaks. Since this controller is a state feedback controller one of the major problems is linked to the state reconstruction. Other pertinent topics are: i) the study of the effect of the disturbances on the closed-loop system stability, ii) the problem inherent to the nature of a state feedback controller when we want an output of the system to track a reference signal and iii) the discussion of the detrimental effects on stability if a pure time delay or a limited bandwidth are added to the closed-loop system, as is the case in reality. The validation of the proposed controller is carried out by means of simulations. We present results for ITER-FEAT and JET using the linear tokamak model CREATE-L. Finally, we present a validation for the case of TCV using the nonlinear DINA-CH code.

Joel Albrektsson, Daniel Favrat, Leonidas Tsikonis, Jan Van Herle

An efficient control system is paramount for the operability of Fuel Cell systems since, in ideal cases, it allows the regulation of power output, temperatures and economic performance under a dynamic working environment where they need to operate. Although several control strategies, scenarios and methodologies have been broadly investigated, it is usually taken for granted that the measurements from the system, necessary for the control feedback, are correct. Nonetheless, when simple thermocouples are used to measure gas temperatures there is a significant danger of systematic errors due to radiation effects between the surroundings and the thermocouple. The discrepancy between a real gas temperature and the one measured depends mainly on the temperature difference between the gas and the solids around as well as the gas velocity, radiation factors etc. The phenomenon has been described in our past publications. In this work we simulate an SOFC system and apply control scenarios in order to investigate potential problems arising from such systematic errors. The results show that important dysfunctions may occur and caution should be applied in design of both control and of the systems themselves.

2011