2013 R&D 100 Winner
VOTOFuel cells are typically viewed as complex or expensive devices. However, Point Source Power and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s VOTO rugged metal-supported solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) is a simple, affordable technology that can operate directly on hydrocarbon fuels in the relatively uncontrolled environment of a cookstove.

The technology works by placing a solid carbon-based fuel, or biomass fuel, in the fuel chamber of the fuel cell. The cooking fire supplies the heat needed for the fuel cell to heat up to the operating temperatures. During heating, the biomass undergoes pyrolysis, releasing gaseous fuel species such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide that are then electrochemically converted to water, carbon dioxide and electricity. Unlike low-temperature proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells that conduct protons and release water on the air side of the fuel cell, the SOFC membrane selectively transports oxygen ions from the air side of the fuel cell to the fuel chamber. This electrochemical reaction generates water and carbon dioxide on the fuel side, which can then react with the remaining carbon in the fuel chamber through a gasification reaction, generating additional gaseous fuel species until all the carbon is consumed or the fuel cell temperatures drops below the temperature needed for these reactions. This process results in a wave of DC charge current (2 to 5 A) generated by the fuel cell as the fire heats up and subsequently cools down. The electric energy is captured by an on-board battery, and is then available for later use.

SOF fuel cell

Point Source Power
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Development Team

Point Source Power's VOTO development team (l-r): Kenny Langston, Jeff Chariyasatit, Nick Burton, Craig Jacobson, Mike Tucker, Mark LaBarbera, Bernard Carreon, Cindy Taylor and Jose Manjarrez.


The VOTO Development Team
Craig Jacobson, Principal Developer, Point Source Power
Mike Tucker, Principal Developer, Point Source Power
Nick Burton, Point Source Power
Bernard Carreon, Point Source Power
Jeff Chariyasatit, Point Source Power
Lutgard De Jonghe, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Mark LaBarbera, Point Source Power
Kenny Langston, Point Source Power
Grace Lau, Point Source Power
Jose Manjarrez, Point Source Power
Tal Sholklapper, Point Source Power
Cindy Taylor, Point Source Power
Steve Visco, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory