Home CellWednesday 4th June 2014
A fuel cells seem like the power of the future. A fuel cell converts chemical energy directly into electrical energy, but despite being around since 1838, there hadn’t been a practical application for domestic use as the systems proved too complex.
Now the Dresden based Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems has partnered with heater company Vaillant to develop fuel-cell technology for home use, which is an exciting development.
Fuel cells are far more efficient than combustion engines, such as the car engine, but they require an intermediate step. First, they convert chemical energy into thermal energy (heat) and mechanical energy (force). With this force, they drive a generator, which only then generates the electrical power. In the process, a large portion of the originally available energy is lost.
Fraunhofer and Vaillant have developed a compact and safe fuel cell system that generates electricity and heat for households all from natural gas. The researchers have constructed a working prototype, and have designed the overall system, including the ceramic components, the reformer and afterburner.
Their research has resulted in a compact system, similar in size as a standard gas heater. It can be comfortably mounted on a wall and easily maintained. With an output of one kilowatt, the system can cover the average current consumption of a four-person household.
The system is based on a solid fuel cell (SOFC), which can operate at a much higher temperature compared to other systems, such as those used in cars. SOFCs can reach up to 850 degrees. The electrolyte of an SOFC only transfers oxygen ions, not electrons. If it is, hence, connected to the gas supply, the ‘reformer’ converts the natural gas into a hydrogen-rich gas, which reacts in the stack and with the oxygen in the air in a noiseless cold combustion, producing power and heat.
Sounds very much like the home future heating and power system - it will be interesting to see this technology develop further.
Wednesday 4th June 2014