Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fuel Cells Grow Appetite for More Fuels Than H2

Most people think of H2 fuel cells, if they think of fuel cells at all. Hydrogen-centric thinking is one reason fuel cells have been so slow to take off. We are learning that fuel cells can be taught to eat methanol, ethanol, natural gas, syngas from municipal waste, carbon, and more.

Another reason fuel cells have been slow to emerge is the high cost of catalysts. Recent research in finding inexpensive replacement catalysts for fuel cells should help to broaden the application outlook for fuel cells.

Fuel cells can play a big role in dealing with the "landfill crisis" more efficiently.
...with improved energy conversion efficiency, fuel-cell power plants can sell more electricity converted from each ton of waste, Waste2Tricity says. As municipal refuse becomes valuable for waste-to-energy processes, less waste will be sent to landfills. AFC and Waste2Tricity also say the fuel-cell powered plants would receive Renewable Obligation Certificates, the UK's renewable energy trading credit.

“It has the potential to play a major role in the reduction of waste going to landfill, reduction in CO2 emissions, provide local authorities with a revenue stream, as well as being a commercially viable proposition,” said Peter Jones of the Waste2Tricity board in a news release. _CT
Fuel cells have been used as backup power plants for several years in industry. Homes in Japan will pioneer the use of fuel cells for primary power and heat provision (CHP). If the experiment is successful, expect the trend to spread to North America, Europe, and A/NZ.

Fuel cell powered automobiles should start appearing within 5 years, as costs are reduced, and fuel demands are made less stringent. Hydrogen gas is not a good fuel for mobile fuel cell applications. Liquid fuels are superior in terms of handling ease, energy density, and safety.

To replace an internal combustion engine (ICE) in automobiles, one needs a powerplant that provides high energy density and high power density. Fuel cells provide a high energy density. The addition of super-ultracapacitors provides high power density for necessary power surges. Intermediate chemical cell batteries may also be used to provide a smooth, steady cruising current.

The exact architecture of the ICE-less hybrid automobile remains to be worked out. Fuel cells are more efficient than ICEs, so a fuel cell serial hybrid might allow the use of less expensive and sophisticated fuel cells, with the load matching provided largely by batteries and capacitors. (perhaps a hybrid battery-capacitor)



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