Monday, April 12, 2010

Methanol Fuel Cells Make Sense

Brian Westenhaus takes a look at a successful California manufacturer of methanol fuel cells for fork lift vehicles. A Nissan assembly plant in Tennessee recently ordered 60 units of the relatively new methanol fuel cell.
Fuel cells can be much more quickly and easily re-fueled than a large battery bank can be recharged. Using fuel tanks, fuel cells can easily hold far more energy than batteries as well. Methanol is safe and easy to handle and store, and is inexpensive, when compared to hydrogen -- which is the fuel usually thought of for fuel cells -- or other gases besides hydrogen.
Oorja’s Protonics’ methanol fuel cells eliminate the dangerous and time-consuming task of switching out and recharging batteries and owning the extra sets Oorja’s OorjaPac fuel cell sits on the forklift and feeds electrons to the battery pack, charging it as the day progresses. Filling up the fuel cell at the beginning of a shift, ideally, provides enough power for the day. A 3.4 gallon-storage tank of methanol powers a vehicle for 10 hours.

...The Nissan factory in Smyrna Tennessee has tested Oorja’s product over 18 months and then ordered 60 units. Mark Sorgi, senior manager of material handling at Nissan said the factory would save near $225,000 per year and avoid spending $300,000 for battery replacements. Oorja’s fuel cells also save time and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. “We can probably run anywhere from 14 to 16 hours on one tank of methanol,” Sorgi said. “It takes 60 seconds to refill versus battery change-out that takes 15 minutes.”
Methanol, a one-carbon atom chemical is one of the mostly commonly produced chemicals in the world, costs about $1 to $2 a gallon and doesn’t have to be transported under pressure so it’s easy to ship. It’s the main chemical in windshield washer fluid. Methanol can be delivered in large plastic drums and is fully biodegradable.
Oorja has improved the performance of its fuel cell. The new 1.6-kilowatt Model H is about 25 percent to 30 percent smaller than the previous version, at $16,000 costs about 50 percent less than the earlier version, and can be refilled with methanol in about a minute. _NewEnergyandFuel
Entrepreneurs are oriented toward problem solving -- because that is how they make a living. Academics and pundits, on the other hand, are oriented toward magnifying problems and extending a problem's lifespan. That makes sense, because academics and pundits make a living by studying problems, not by solving them.

It may well be that when fuel cells, batteries, and supercapacitors reach their next limitational plateus, that the best electric vehicle will include a combination of a fuel cell feeding the batteries and supercapacitor, a medium sized battery pack between the fuel cell and the motor, and a modest supercapacitor for quick bursts of power. The battery will be kept topped off by the fuel cells, and will provide normal cruising. Supercapacitors will provide rapid acceleration, and will likewise be kept charged by the fuel cells.

Such a combination would come close to matching the performance of an internal combustion engine -- and would beat the ICE at low speed torque.

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Blogger Unknown said...

well stated about entrepreneurs vs. academics & pundits. and i completely agree about the nice combination of steady power supply combined with capacitors.

do you know what the sound that is in the video? I wonder what could be making that sound given that fuel cells are solid state devices. is the machine aerating the methanol, or is that background noise from something else?

6:03 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

It isn't clear to me whether the noise is coming from the device, or whether it is background noise. Methanol has to be supplied at a certain pressure by a pump to the cells.

The heat production from fuel cells must be dealt with -- either with cooling fans or pumps. If you installed one at your home, you would likely want to tap the heat production for hot water and possibly space heating.

Such ancillary equipment (fans, pumps etc) will make some noise.

6:22 AM  

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