How Fuel Cell Drive Everyone To The Cleaner Environment

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Fuel Cell

Introduction

The world is beginning to fully resolve the climate emergency. After signing the Paris Agreement in 2016, announcing their intention to curb global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the 195 signatory countries now have to comply with their commitments. At the same time, more and more businesses are committed to their position. People and shareholders are increasingly demanding that companies take responsibility for their effect on climate change. Governments and leaders around the world are rallying behind hydrogen as a central component of their climate change plans. This is not only in the transport sector but through their entire energy system.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if we wish to keep global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This will already cause major drawbacks for future generations. The world will need to cut CO₂ emissions by 25% by 2030 and be net zero by 2070.No matter how you look at this the world will either embrace or decarbonize the climate emergency, and the wealthier countries will have to bear the heaviest burden.

In the energy transition, hydrogen may be a “missing link” to help supply vast quantities of renewable energy to industries. This would otherwise be difficult to decarbonize by direct electrification, such as transport, industry and existing use of natural gas.

What is a fuel cell and how does it function?

Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that mix hydrogen and oxygen to provide electricity, water and heat. Compared to batteries, fuel cells continue to generate electricity as long as fuel is supplied. Fuel cells do not burn fuel, making service peaceful, pollution-free and two to three times more efficient than combustion.Fuel cell systems can be a zero-emission source of energy if hydrogen is generated from non-polluting sources. The function of a fuel cell is to produce electrical current that can be directed out of the cell to be powered, e.g. to power an electric motor.

Basic Fuel Cell Working Operation

Every fuel cell comprises two electrodes called anode and cathode. The processes that produce electricity take place in the electrodes. There is also an electrolyte in each fuel cell that brings electrically charged particles from one electrode to another and a catalyst that accelerates electrode reactions. Basic fuel is hydrogen, but oxygen is also required for fuel cells.One of the major attractions of fuel cells is that they generate electricity with relatively little emissions.Any of the hydrogen and oxygen used to create energy will inevitably combine to produce a harmless by-product,namely water.

Type of fuel cells

There are six types of fuel cells that refer to the six main electrolytes used in fuel cells: 

1.Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC)

Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells work with polymer electrolytes in the form of thin, permeable sheets.

2.Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) 

Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) use methanol as the electrolyte.

3.Phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFC) 

Phosphoric Acid fuel cells (PAFCs) are using phosphoric acid as an electrolyte

4.Molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFC) 

Molten Carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) use high-temperature salt compounds (like sodium or magnesium) carbonates (chemically, CO3) as electrolytes.

5.Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC)

Solid Oxide fuel cells (SOFC) use a rigid, ceramic compound of metal (such as calcium or zirconium) oxides (chemically, O2) as an electrolyte. 

6.Alkaline fuel cells (AFC)

Alkali fuel cells are used for compressed hydrogen and oxygen. They usually use potassium hydroxide solution (chemically, KOH) as their electrolyte in water. 

Fuel cell advantages and disadvantages

Fuel cells produce renewable energy and can use a variety of fuels. When hydrogen is used the only byproduct is water. Beyond the environmental benefits, fuel cells are also an incredibly powerful, safe and quiet source of energy. 

While hydrogen is lightweight, extremely efficient and the most abundant resource in the universe, it currently takes a lot of energy to harness hydrogen.

As per Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Hydrogen is an energy storage mechanism. It’s not a source of energy. Electrolysis is extremely inefficient as an energy process. If you took the solar panel and used the energy from that solar panel to charge the battery pack directly opposed to trying to split the water, take the hydrogen, dump the oxygen, compress the hydrogen to incredibly high pressure or liquefy it. It is then put in the car and run the fuel cell which is about half the efficiency.

Applications of  fuel cell

The three key markets for fuel cell technology are stationary electricity, transport and portable power.

Image by -Google| Image source – E4tech Fuel cell industry review
  • Stationary power involves any application in which fuel cells are run at a fixed location for primary power, backup or combined heat and power (CHP).
  • Transportation applications include motive power for light-duty cars, buses, heavy-duty trucks, speciality vehicles, material handling equipment, and auxiliary power units for off-road vehicles.
  • Fuel cells that are not permanently fixed or fuel cells in portable devices provide portable power applications.

Future prospects of Hydrogen fuel cell

With new applications, the low-carbon hydrogen market size could reach USD 25 billion by 2030 and grow even further long-term. Hydrogen also holds long-term promise in many sectors beyond existing industrial applications, including transport, heating buildings, replacing fossil fuels in energy-intensive industries and power generation.

1.Road transport is a notoriously hard industry to decarbonize. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) drastically reduce air pollution, since they have zero tailpipe emissions and can be CO₂ free. In the case of personal cars, hydrogen is complementary to other solutions, such as electric vehicles and advanced biofuels; prices would dictate the balance between them over the long term. However, heavy-duty transport will probably need to rely on hydrogen since electric batteries do not offer a viable solution. 

2.Maritime and air transport are industries for which hydrogen is a leading – though still incomplete – solution for decarbonisation. For shipping, one advantage of these applications is that it can address emissions both at sea and those from port operations, making use of synergies with forklifts and trucks. For aviation, hydrogen-based fuels would require limited changes to design or refuelling infrastructure at airports. In the long term, the potential demand for hydrogen that this sector might produce is substantial, while technological challenges remain. Indeed, for example, the marine transport market accounts for about 5% of global demand for crude.

3.Buildings account for about a third of global energy usage, mainly for heating purposes. Hydrogen can make an interesting low-carbon contribution to decarbonizing buildings, especially in the near term by blending hydrogen into existing natural gas networks. It can complement the use of heat pumps, by meeting heating needs during peak cold periods. This would have the most impact in apartment blocks and commercial buildings, particularly in dense cities, where conversion of current heating systems to heat pumps is most challenging. 

4.Energy-Intensive Industries such as steel, aluminium and cement or even refineries, will require hydrogen to fulfil their energy needs in a carbon-neutral way. In these applications, rather than using it in the chemical process itself, hydrogen is used as a feedstock to produce high-temperature heat necessary for, e.g., melting, gasifying, drying or catalyzing chemical reactions. Excluding the chemical and iron and steel sectors, industrial high-temperature heat is currently responsible for more than 3% of global energy-sector CO₂ emissions. Despite the fact that negligible quantities of hydrogen are currently used for this purpose today, hydrogen combustion (notably as an alternative to coal and natural gas) provides options to mitigate emissions that have been proven on a scale.

5.Power Generation– Balancing and Storage offer many opportunities for hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels. Near term, ammonia produced from hydrogen could be co-fired in coal-fired power plants to reduce CO₂ emissions. In the next decade, we should expect to see electrolysis plants functioning as peak power shavings. Hydrogen will also be used for seasonal storage of electricity in countries with high levels of renewable energy, particularly as technology improvements have improved conversion efficiency. Underground storage of hydrogen-based fuels such as ammonia, particularly in salt caverns, is envisaged and could be one of the most space-efficient long-term storage options. Indeed, 150 GWh (a medium-sized city’s annual electricity consumption) could be processed using just one 50m × 30m liquid ammonia tank.

Which companies research & manufacture of fuel cells around the world?

There are public, private and some of the automotive fuel cell companies which started initiative through their research and innovation to comply with the Paris agreement. Hundreds of companies are active in various aspects of the fuel cell industry, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), suppliers of components and integrators.

Public Companies

  • Ceres Power, United Kingdom
  • Ballard Power Systems, Canada
  • Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited, Australia
  • FuelCell Energy, U.S.
  • Hydrogenics, Canada
  • IdaTech, U.S.
  • Plug Power, U.S.
  • Protonex, U.S.
  • SFC Energy AG, Germany
  • UTC Power, U.S.

Private Companies

  • Bloom Energy, U.S.
  • ClearEdge Power, U.S.
  • Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, Singapore
  • NedStack, Netherland
  • Nuvera Fuel Cells, U.S.
  • Oorja Protonics, U.S.
  • ReliOn, Acquired by Plug Power, U.S.

Automotive Companies

  • Daimler AG,Germany
  • General Motors,U.S.
  • Honda,Japan
  • Toyota, Japan

Latest research in Fuel cell technologies

  1. A team of researchers from UCLA, Caltech, and Ford Motor Company have improved fuel-cell technologies to surpass the performance, stability, and power goals of the US Department of Energy.  This latest development may lead to a new approach to renewable energy using solar energy to turn water to hydrogen during the day and hydrogen back to water at night while providing electricity. The research focuses on fine-tuning microscopic knowledge on the surface where the chemical reaction supplying energy takes place. 
  2. Engineers at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Liquid fuel cells are an attractive alternative to traditional hydrogen fuel cells because they minimize the need to transport and store hydrogen. Louis has developed high-power direct borohydride fuel cells (DBFC). It works at twice the voltage of conventional hydrogen fuel cells.  Unmanned underwater vehicles, drones and, finally, electric aircraft can be powered, all at dramatically lower costs.
  3. A new family of chemical compounds has been discovered by researchers at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. They claim could “revolutionize fuel cell technology” and help reduce global carbon emissions. Ceramic fuel cells are highly powerful devices that turn chemical energy into electrical energy. They provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels generating very low hydrogen emissions. Another benefit of ceramic fuel cells is that hydrocarbon fuels such as methane can also be used. This means that they can serve as a technology for ‘bridging’. 
  4. A lack of high-performance and low-cost hydrogen oxidation reaction catalysts limits the manufacturing of cost-effective hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells.  Researchers invented a high-active, robust and low-cost anode-free platinum catalytic converter based on RuNi for hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells. 
  5. The research study is underway to generate power from Compost Soil Microbial Fuel Cell using the area as fuel. They studied Compost Soil Microbial Fuel Cell (CSMFC) unlike typical MFC with urea from the compost as fuel and graphite as a functional electrode. This study confirmed that urea has a profound effect on power generation. The key emphasis is to use waste, such as urine, industrial wastewater, which includes a lot of urea, to get power from the soil processes in the future.
  6. New research indicates that graphene, made in a particular way, may be used to create more durable hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Graphene was developed and used by scientists in a special versatile technique to build catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. The research team from University College London (UCL) and the Queen Mary University of London showed that this new kind of graphene-based catalyst was more stable than commercially available catalysts and matched their performance. For these fuel cells, platinum is the most widely used catalyst but its high cost is a major problem for hydrogen fuel cell commercialisation.  Commercial catalysts are usually made to solve this problem by decorating small platinum nanoparticles with cheaper carbon support but the material’s poor durability drastically decreases the lifetime of current fuel cells. 

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