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Fuel cells and Hydrogen

Fuel cells are considered to be the energy converters of the future  because in principle they achieve  particularly  high levels of electrical efficiency, a high  overall utilisation  ratio with simultaneous use of heat, and  especially low pollutant emissions.  They can operate both with hydrogen and  with hydrocarbon fuels (after reformation) and  are suitable  both for decentralized electricity and  heat  supplies  and  for powering electrical  vehicles. One highly promising possibility is onboard electricity generation
in vehicles and  on aeroplanes in place of the units currently used.  This will enable considerable fuel savings and  performance increases.

However,  when  the carbon emissions  are considered, fuel cell operation based  on fossil energy  sources  still won’t bring  any great  relief to the climate  system.  For a sustainable improvement in CO2  emissions,  it is therefore essential  to replace  fossil energy  with renewables for providing hydrogen.

The first experiments with car and  bus fleets are now taking  place worldwide, as well as field trials for supplying energy  to buildings, in order to demonstrate their technical feasibility. Japan has begun the first phase  of market  launch  for energy  supply in households with 500 units. Germany and  other  countries are also stepping up product development. Field tests provide  a number of insights  into daily operation that  can then  be incorporated into the development of the next  generation of products. Furthermore, inexpensive solutions  are being  developed both for core components (membrane, catalytic converters, and  bipolar  plates)  and  peripheral components (pumps, valves, and  sensors).

Considerable R&D efforts are still required to deal with the many  open questions that  remain, before  fuel cells are ready  for use, cost-competitive, and  ready  for market  launch. The systems must  be made more  reliable, efficiency must  be maintained over their service life, and  service life must  be sufficiently long – all of these  issues are part  of the problems that  have to be solved to lower costs.

Research and  development requirements

•   Development of cost-effective materials (catalysts,  membranes etc.)

•   Modelling and  characterisation of fuel cells to increase  their power  density  and  operational reliability

•   Development of technical-mathematical models  for thermodynamic, electro- chemical and  mass transport phenomena (material  and  heat  transport/electricity transfer)  in fuel cells with the goal of optimizing the design  of cells and  stacks

•   Research into mechanisms of degradation in various incinerator gas compounds

•   Development of innovative  diagnosis and investigation methods for fuel cells

•   R&D into compact, cost-effective reformation technologies (e.g.  natural gas and diesel) to take advantage of current energy source  infrastructure as a transition technology

•   Development of fuel cells suitable  for synthesis  gas (H2  + CO)

•   Development of “reversible” fuel cells/ electrolyser  systems

•   Improvement of low temperature fuel cells (PEFC)1 for direct  feeding  and  efficient transformation of methanol and  related alcohols

•   Further  development of SOFC2 and  MCFC3 fuel cells for higher  power  densities  and various fuels

•   Development of control strategies for fuel cells in hybrid  systems

•   Development of serial production methods for all fuel cell components in order  to lower costs

•   Fuel cell system  technology, particularly power  converter technology, remote status diagnosis and  error forecasting, and optimised grid integration

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