A hot source of energy

June 27, 2005
A hot source of energy

Stacks of ceramic plates are capable of transforming fuels like natural gas into electricity using an electrochemical process. High-temperature fuel cells are ideal for use in power supply systems for buildings and vehicles. A young firm is planning their commercialization.

Image: A fuel-cell stack consists of a series-connected assembly of ceramic SOFC cells. Metallic connectors must assure electrical contact at temperatures above 800 °C. © Bayer AG

High-temperature fuel cells, unlike other types, are capable of producing electricity and heat not only from hydrogen or methanol but also from cheaper and more readily available energy sources such as natural gas, gasoline, diesel or biogas. A front-end reformer converts these fuels to hydrogen and carbon monoxide. But the high operating temperature of over 800 °C requires a correspondingly long period of pre-heating. For that reason, such fuel cells are best employed in situations where they continuously operate – particularly providing energy for buildings and vehicles.

In many cases they can often be designed to even use the process heat – thus ideally achieving an energy efficiency of over 90 percent. Solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) have been a subject of research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Sintered Materials IKTS since 1992. They are cast or silk-screened in ceramic paste and then sintered to form plate electrodes of the required thinness. “We are the first to have developed a ceramic that prolongs the life of the plates by a factor of around ten with respect to previous types of material,” emphasizes institute director Professor Alexander Michaelis. “Moreover, they achieve the highest energy efficiency so far produced using a solid-oxide fuel cell.”

A single membrane electrode assembly, complete with connectors, has about the same dimensions as a CD and delivers an output of around 20 watts. By grouping them together in stacks, they generate sufficient power for the envisaged applications. A stack can serve as an auxiliary power unit (APU) for boats, camper cars and other vehicles. Such mobile devices are better able to meet the high electrical power requirements of modern vehicles than conventional alternators.

The emerging technology of fuel cells was not born yesterday. The IKTS has been cooperating with firms like Webasto AG and Bayer subsidiary HC Starck GmbH since 2003. The two partners have now formed a joint venture to develop fuel-cell stacks for APUs to industrial maturity. “We are confident that this is the right time to start marketing SOFC-based energy systems,” declares Dr. Christian Wunderlich, managing director of the new Staxera GmbH. “The important factors in our view are robust design, a smoothly running production line, and the ability to supply customers with a fully tested complete solution.” Concentrating on these three aspects, Staxera hopes to capture a major share of the market for decentralized energy systems. In this field the demand for solar energy systems is already increasing at a remarkable rate.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Multifunctional catalyst for poison-resistant hydrogen fuel cells

Related Stories

NRL issued patent for solar microbial fuel cell

June 22, 2017

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering, has received a U.S. patent for a self-assembling, self-repairing, and self-contained microbial photoelectrochemical solar cell driven ...

How protons move through a fuel cell

June 22, 2017

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ...

Fuel of the future

June 21, 2017

Heavy-duty trucks will soon be driving around in Trondheim, Norway, fuelled by hydrogen created with solar power, and emitting only pure water vapour as exhaust. Not only will hydrogen technology revolutionize road transport, ...

Protecting resources from oxygen damage

June 20, 2017

Vital to life on this planet, oxygen has a sinister and ravenous side that harms plants and biofuel production. That's why the Department of Energy's Office of Science supports research to tame oxygen's dark side.

The exciting future of light energy

June 19, 2017

In a world of growing energy needs, and a global imperative to halt carbon emissions, a tiny 'quasiparticle' called an exciton could provide the answer to our problems.

Recommended for you

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

June 22, 2017

In an arranged marriage of optics and mechanics, physicists have created microscopic structural beams that have a variety of powerful uses when light strikes them. Able to operate in ordinary, room-temperature environments, ...

Wasp venom holds clues on how genes get new jobs

June 22, 2017

Amid the incredible diversity of living things on our planet, there is a common theme. Organisms need to acquire new genes, or change the functions of existing genes, in order to adapt and survive.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.