NPL diagnostic tool for in situ, real-time metrology of PEMFCs
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10Fuel Cells Bulletin July 2013
electricity from renewables by 2020. In early June the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a proposal that calls for the state’s three main utilities to procure 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020.
ITM Power has also joined the Power-to-Gas (P2G) Strategy Platform managed by the German Energy Agency (dena). The Platform includes 31 key players in the electricity and gas markets, equipment suppliers, and leading German research institutes [see also the North Sea Power to Gas Platform item in FCB, May 2013, p8]. It aims to expedite the necessary interaction between the established and emerging industrial segments that will ultimately merge to bring to fruition the long-term transformation of Germany’s energy markets (known as the Energiewende).
ITM Power has identified Germany as a key part of the company’s expansion plans, as evidenced by the establishment of ITM Power GmbH in 2011, and its first P2G project with Thüga Group in Frankfurt am Main, currently under construction [FCB, April 2013, p9].
In other news, ITM Power has been invited by an international partner – already established in Denmark, but currently remaining anonymous – to jointly bid for significant energy storage opportunities there. To this end, ITM Power has established a wholly owned Danish subsidiary, ITM Power ApS, to join the partner to tender for existing opportunities and opportunities under development [see the ITM Power feature in FCB, January 2012].
The Danish government’s Energy Plan 2020 includes establishing initiatives for hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), as well as hydrogen energy storage, with the overall aim to reach 100% fossil fuel independence by 2050 [see the News Feature in FCB, April 2012, p12].
ITM Power, Sheffield, UK. Tel: +44 114 244 5111, www.itm-power.com
California Hydrogen Business Council: www.californiahydrogen.org
Power-to-Gas Strategy Platform: www.powertogas.info (in German)
German Energy Agency: www.dena.de/en
Energy transition in Germany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energiewende
SFC adds EFOY Pro Energy Solutions for industrial applications
German-based SFC Energy has expanded its fully integrated
EFOY Pro Energy Solutions series for
professional industrial applications. The series of complete direct methanol fuel cell power supply systems is designed for demanding outdoor application scenarios such as the oil & gas and wind power industries, traffic management, security and surveillance, and for off-grid operation of sensing and measuring, communication, and radio equipment.
SFC Energy already offers the EFOY ProCube for powering mobile and vehicle-based off-grid applications, and the vandal-proof EFOY ProCabinet for powering stationary off-grid applications. The new EFOY ProEnergyBox further expands the versatility of EFOY Pro Energy Solutions with a power solution engineered to withstand even the most extreme weather conditions for long periods.
The EFOY ProEnergyBox is specified for temperatures from +50°C to –40°C. It is available in two standard sizes, to hold either one or two EFOY Pro generators, and up to four 28 litre EFOY fuel cartridges. Both models come in ruggedised, insulated and weatherproof Peli cases, and offer enough space to integrate battery and individual application-specific equipment.
EFOY Pro Energy Solutions offer significantly extended autonomy for off-grid equipment that is powered by them. They all contain SFC Energy’s EFOY Pro fuel cell generator, EFOY fuel cartridges, battery and power management. They can easily be hybridised with solar modules or other alternative power sources like wind or water generators [see the SFC Energy feature in January 2013].
‘We have created the EFOY ProEnergyBox to meet the extreme off-grid power requirements of our customers in the oil & gas industry, especially in the severe Russian and Canadian winters [see page 8],’ says Dr Peter Podesser, CEO of SFC Energy. ‘In the past, providing reliable power to critical equipment during the long arctic winters used to be a logistic nightmare. With the EFOY ProEnergyBox, equipment is powered for months and months on end without requiring any user intervention.’
SFC Energy, Brunnthal/Munich, Germany. Tel: +49 89 673 5920, www.sfc.com
EFOY Pro fuel cell generators: www.efoy-pro.com
PowerDisc eFlow for uniform current, improved durability
Canadian-based PowerDisc Development Corporation says that
its novel eFlow™ PEM fuel cell design solves one of the most challenging issues in the fuel cell industry: unequal
current distribution. By improving the flow of oxygen, fuel and water, fuel cells using eFlow can avoid the degradation seen in fuel cell membranes and other stack materials. This results in increased durability, higher peak power, and reduced cost due to improved membrane resiliency and lifetime.
‘The fuel cell industry has spent a significant amount of time and money solving issues that stem from non-uniform current, including accelerated aging and lower power output,’ explains PowerDisc’s chief scientist Dr Sean MacKinnon, formerly with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Ballard Power Systems, and General Motors’ Fuel Cell Division.
MacKinnon described the eFlow technology at the recent Hydrogen + Fuel Cells 2013 conference in Vancouver. The design improves the flow of oxygen, fuel and water within a fuel cell, and avoids degradation of the fuel cell membrane and stack materials. The net result is that overall fuel cell durability is increased, higher peak powers are enabled, and cost is significantly reduced due to greater membrane resiliency, the elimination of costly system components, and improved lifetime.
Dag Hinrichs, VP of business development at PowerDisc, says that when these benefits are added up, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) will reveal new areas where fuel cells can compete with incumbent technologies. ‘Fuel cells using eFlow will gain performance and ‘cost out’ benefits that open more markets where fuel cells can compete with traditional power solutions,’ says Hinrichs. ‘The cost per kWh comparisons look good, it’s exciting.’
PowerDisc is providing design and engineering services support to assist with the integration of eFlow in stationary and automotive applications. The company’s R&D operations are based in Vancouver, at the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation on the University of British Columbia campus.
PowerDisc Development Corporation, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Tel: +1 604 227 4349, www.powerdisc.ca
NPL diagnostic tool for in situ, real-time metrology of PEMFCs
The National Physical Laboratory in the UK has devised new ways of
making in situ measurements on PEM fuel cells using voltage mapping and in-stack catalyst area measurements, as well as new ways of interpreting the
July 2013 Fuel Cells Bulletin11
results, to support work to extend fuel cell durability.
Making measurements of fuel cell performance has been difficult. Each cell only delivers a small voltage, so they have to be put in series (i.e. a stack) to create useful voltages. The active area then has to be measured cell by cell, and reference electrodes can only gather data at the edges of a cell. NPL has previously developed a new type of reference electrode that can be used to map the variation in potential across the entire active area of the cell while it is still in the stack [FCB, April 2012, p10].
Fuel cell durability is highly affected by non-uniformities that can lead to the development of ‘hot spots’ which can eventually cause localised failure. The NPL reference electrode enables more uniform designs to be created, resulting in fuel cells that last longer – a key factor affecting whether they are economic to use.
‘Voltage mapping is directly relevant to 30% of our R&D. All fuel cell designs are a compromise between different goals, so the desire to achieve uniform voltage distribution has to be balanced against cost,’ says Dr Simon Foster, from fuel cell manufacturer Intelligent Energy. ‘But the technique helps us make informed design decisions that in turn should typically yield improvements in our fuel cells. We’d be looking at a 5–10% improvement.’
The latest NPL innovation is a new technique for measuring the active catalyst area of each cell in a stack. As fuel cells age, the active area of platinum catalyst diminishes, so measuring this area is an indication of the health of the cell. Using conventional methods, such measurements were only possible at the beginning and end of life. The new NPL technique makes it possible for the first time to monitor the active area of each cell throughout the lifetime of the stack, creating an invaluable tool for lifetime and durability studies.
Both NPL techniques have already been adopted by leading fuel cell and component manufacturers in the UK, including Intelligent Energy and Johnson Matthey, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fuel cell electrodes.
Contact: Dr Gareth Hinds, Electrochemistry, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex, UK. Tel: +44 20 8943 7147, Email: [email protected], Web: www.npl.co.uk/science-technology/electrochemistry
NPL Centre for Carbon Measurement: www.npl.co.uk/carbon-measurement
Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells: www.jmfuelcells.com
Intelligent Energy: www.intelligent-energy.com
Technology Strategy Board: www.innovateuk.org
Published paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpowsour.2013.05.046
Jülich, TU Berlin team develops inexpensive PEM fuel cell catalyst
Scientists from the Research Centre Jülich and the Technical University
of Berlin in Germany have developed a fuel cell catalyst that uses only one-tenth of the platinum that is typically required in PEM fuel cells. The new catalyst material comprises platinum-nickel alloy nano-octahedra, which offer exceptional catalytic activity while cutting Pt use by 90%.
Using state-of-the-art electron microscopy, the researchers discovered that the function of the nm-scale catalyst particles is decisively determined by their geometric shape and atomic structure. This discovery opens up new paths for further improving catalysts for energy conversion and storage. The results were recently published in Nature Materials.
The new catalyst consists not of the round nanoparticles previously in widespread use, but of octrahedral nanoparticles of a PtxNi1–x alloy. The researchers discovered that the unique manner in which the Pt and Ni atoms arrange themselves on the surfaces of these particles serves to optimally accelerate the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to form water.
The researchers focused on the way in which the life-cycle of the catalysts depends on – and can be optimised by – their atomic composition. The investigation made use of ultrahigh-resolution electron microscopy at the Ernst Ruska-Centre (ER-C) in Jülich.
‘A decisive factor for understanding the life-cycle of the catalysts was the observation that nickel and platinum atoms prefer not to be evenly distributed at the surface of the nano-octahedra,’ explains Dr Marc Heggen from ER-C and the Peter Grünberg Institute at Forschungszentrum Jülich. ‘Although this is advantageous for reactivity, it limits lifetime.’
To identify the location of each element with atomic precision, the researchers used a method in which the electron beam is finely focused, sent through the specimen and, by interactions with the specimen, loses some energy. Each element in the specimen can thus be identified like a fingerprint.
Contact: Dr Marc Heggen, Microstructure Research (PGI-5), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany. Tel: +49 2461 619479, Email: [email protected], Web: www.fz-juelich.de/pgi/pgi-5/EN/Home/home_node.html
Published paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmat3668
I N B R I E F
Bio Coke Lab for portable fuel cell powerIn Japan, Bio Coke Lab Company (www.biocokelab.com/index_e.html) has integrated its hydrogen storage alloy with a portable fuel cell to function as an emergency power source for smartphones and notebooks. The 8.5 kg prototype can supply 33 W of power for 72 minutes from the hydrogen stored in a replaceable cartridge.
The device utilises a PEM fuel cell stack made by Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies (www.horizonfuelcell.com). Hydrogen is supplied from a cartridge with two compartments: one holds water, and the other 30 g of magnesium hydride that stores 50 litres of compressed hydrogen.
The company plans to boost the device’s capacity by 20% and reduce the weight by 30%, targeting a commercial release in October priced at about ¥450 000 (US$4600), according to a Nikkei report. Bio Coke Lab will market the fuel cell as an emergency power supply for municipal governments, office buildings, and families. It targets sales of 2000 units this fiscal year, and 10 000 units in fiscal 2014.
Canada links to Scottish, Spanish groupsThe Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (www.chfca.ca) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (www.shfca.org.uk), to establish a trans-continental agreement on future collaborative working and support the development of trade and innovation links. The agreement has been facilitated by support from Scottish Development International and the Scottish government, to help SHFCA develop an international presence.
CHFCA has also signed a partnership agreement with the Spanish Hydrogen Association (www.aeh2.org), to combine efforts to promote hydrogen and fuel cell research and technology development in both countries.
Kyushu team wins contest for northeast US hydrogen fueling infrastructure planA team from Kyushu University in Japan has won the 2012–2013 Hydrogen Student Design Contest (www.hydrogencontest.org), which challenged students to develop hydrogen fueling infrastructure plans for the northeastern and mid-Atlantic US in the 2013–2025 timeframe.
This year’s competition – hosted by the Hydrogen Education Foundation (www.hydrogeneducationfoundation.org) – was contested by 24 teams from the US, Japan, UK, Bulgaria, Taiwan, India, and Italy. The Kyushu team received an expenses-paid trip to the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo 2013 in Washington, DC to present their design.