Why is Elcogen different from other fuel cell manufacturers?
- Elcogen is currently the only company in the world capable of manufacturing low temperature, ceramic SOFC cells and stacks. Elcogen’s cells can already begin to operate at 600ºC while other SOFCs require 750ºC or even 900ºC. A much lower operating temperature allows fuel cell stack and system manufacturers to use low cost materials and components, which are not usable at higher operating temperatures. Reduced system costs, facilitated by these low cost materials, are a critical component of bringing SOFCs to the mass market.
What is a fuel cell?
- A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device. Fuel cells use hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels as fuel and produce electricity. Heat and clean water are by-products of this process.
- Fuel cells have three main components: an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte. The anode and the cathode have a relatively high porosity, which allows gases to pass through them. Depending on the type of fuel cell, the electrolyte, between the anode and the cathode, conducts either oxygen ions from the cathode to the anode (e.g. in SOFC), or protons from the anode to the cathode (e.g. in PEMFC). In order to balance the process, electrons return through an external circuit from the anode to the electron deficient cathode, resulting in a flow of electrons, or electricity. Heat is also generated due to the losses in the electrochemical process at the electrodes and due to the resistance of the electrolyte.
What are the benefits of fuel cells?
Fuel cells have several advantages over conventional energy conversion technologies:
- Efficiency. In a fuel cell, the fuel’s chemical energy is converted directly into electrical energy, omitting the intermediate combustion process and mechanical energy transformation that takes place in conventional technologies. Theoretically, it is not possible to produce electricity more efficiently. In conventional power generation, electrical efficiency is around 30%. In fuel cells, an electrical efficiency of up to 60-70% is achievable. Furthermore, when excessive heat from the process is used in heating or cooling systems, the efficiency of the whole system can be over 90%.
- Environmental friendliness. When hydrogen is used as fuel in fuel cells, the only “combustion residue” is pure water. Even when hydrocarbon fuels are used, CO2 (the greenhouse gas) emissions are 40-60% lower than in the conventional combustion process. There are practically no emissions of noxious NOx, SOx and solid particles.
- Power quality and service reliability. Fuel cells are the ideal technology for distributed power generation systems, which do not suffer from the power transmission disturbances observed in centralized production. In addition, fuel cells increase service reliability since hydrogen may be produced from various renewable sources and not only from fossil fuels. This enables many regions and countries to decrease their dependence on imported oil and natural gas.
- Consumer friendliness. Fuel cell systems can be installed wherever they are needed, according to customer-specific requirements. Electricity and heat will, therefore, always be available, regardless of grid availability. Fuel cells can be manufactured in a wide range of sizes, depending on the required power output. Customers can choose the most convenient and best available source of hydrogen: SOFC systems can be flexibly adjusted from one fuel to another. Fuel cell systems also have practically no moving parts, resulting in quiet units that require little maintenance.
What are typical applications for fuel cells?
Fuel cells can be used for different applications:
- Stationary power generation. Residential, commercial and industrial power or CHP (combined heat and power) applications in power ranges from 0.5kW up to several MW.
- Automotive industry. Auxiliary power units for trucks and recreational vehicles, range extenders.
- Electrolysis. Wind and solar power storage and the production of synthetic fuels.
There are several types of fuel cells. What is the difference?
- Fuel cells are differentiated based on their working principle and type of electrolyte.
- Currently PEMFCs (polymer electrolyte fuel cells) are the most common type of fuel cell. PEMFC’s main restrictions are their expensive platinum catalysts and relatively short lifetimes as well as only taking pure hydrogen as fuel.
- SOFCs (solid oxide fuel cells) are now gaining ground and maturing as a technology, with their unique properties making them suitable for many applications. SOFCs have the highest electrical efficiency (over 70%) amongst fuel cells, much longer lifetimes and are also highly fuel-flexible (SOFCs can use natural gas, biogas, methanol, ethanol etc.).