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Tag Archives: Phosphoric acid fuel cell

Fuel cell technology is emerging as a base-load power generation technology as well as back-up power for intermittent renewable energy such as solar and wind, substituting conventional storage batteries. However, Fuelcell requires a Fuel in the form of Hydrogen of high purity. The advantage of Fuel cell is, its high electrical efficiency compared to conventional fossil fuel power generation technology, using Carnot cycle. Fuel cell is an electro-chemical device like a battery and generates power using electro-chemical redox reaction silently with no gaseous emission, unlike engines and turbines with combustion, rotary movements and gaseous emissions. The fuel Hydrogen can be generated using a renewable energy sources such as solar and wind as described in my previous articles, “Solar Hydrogen for cleaner future” dated 4 July 2012, and “Renewable Hydrogen for remote power supply “dated 28 June 2012.

Alternatively, Hydrogen can also be generated using biomass through Biogas. Biogas is an important source of renewable energy in the carbon constrained economy of today’s world. The biogas can be generated from waste water and agro-waste by anaerobic digestion using enzymes. Biomass such as wood waste can also be gasified to get syngas, a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide. In anaerobic digestion, the main product will be methane gas accompanied by carbon dioxide and nitrogen while the main product in gasification will be Hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and oxides of Nitrogen. Whatever may be the composition of the resulting gas mixture, our focus will be to separate methane or Hydrogen from the above mixture. In anaerobic digestion, the resulting Methane gas has to be steam reformed to get Hydrogen gas suitable for Fuel cell application. In gasification, the resulting Syngas has to be separated into pure Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide so that pure Hydrogen can be used as a fuel in Fuel cell applications. As I have outlined in many of my previous articles, Hydrogen was the only fuel we have used all these years and we are still using it  in the form of Hydrocarbons and it will continue to be the fuel in the future also. The only difference is future Hydrogen will be free from carbon.

We have to discuss two issues to mitigate Carbon emission, and it can be done by 1.Elimination of Carbon from the fuel source. 2. Generation of Renewable and Carbon free clean energy directly from solar and wind. One option  to cut Carbon from the fuel source is to use Biomass as the raw material to generate Hydrogen so that fresh Carbon will not be added  into the atmosphere by emissions .The second option is to generate pure Hydrogen from water by electrolysis using renewable energy such as wind and solar. Environmentally friendly waste-to-energy projects are becoming popular all over the world. But now most of these waste-to-energy projects generate either Biogas (Methane) by anaerobic digestion or Syngas (Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide) by gasification. Both these gases need further purification before they can be used as a fuel for power generation. The Methane content in the Biogas (about 60% methane and 40% Carbon dioxide with other impurities) needs to be enriched to 90% Methane and free from other impurities. The composition of a typical Biogas is shown in table1.

The resulting purified methane gas will be reformed using steam reformation in presence of a catalyst to get syngas; finally Hydrogen should be separated from resulting syngas so that it can be used directly into the Fuelcell.The common Fuel cell used for this application is invariably Phosphoric acid fuel cell.

PAFC uses 100% Phosphoric acid in Silicon carbide matrix as an electrolyte. PAFC is a self-contained unit completely enclosed in a cabin consisting of a gas reformer, Fuellcell power generator, Power conditioning unit and other auxiliaries. The PAFC is of modular construction with capacities ranging from 100Kw up to 500Kw as a single unit. It can be installed outdoor in the open and it can be readily connected to a piped Biogas. It can also be connected to existing piped natural gas or LPG bullet as a stand-by fuel. Any waste-to energy project can be integrated with Fuel cell power generation with CHP application to get greatest economic and environmental benefits. Hydrogen derived from biomass will be an important source of fuel in the future of clean energy; and Fuel cell will become an alternative power generation technology for both stationary power generation and transportation such as Fuel cell car or Hybrid cars.

PAFC is a compact, self-contained power generation unit that is used even for base load power. The electrical efficiency of PAFC  is about 42% .It is suitable for CHP applications so that the total energy efficiency can reach up to 85%.It is ideal for supplying continuous power 24×7 and also to use waste heat for space heating or space air-conditioning with an absorption chiller in CHP applications. The ideal candidates for PAFC power generation using CHP will be hospitals, super markets, Data centers, Universities or any continuous process industry.PAFC is now used as a backup power for large-scale renewable energy project with an access to piped natural gas. A schematic flow diagram of a fuel cell power generation is shown in Fig 3 using biogas at Yamagata sewage treatment plant in Japan. Biomass  based  Fuecell  power generation has a great potential all over the world irrespective of location and size of the country.

We now generate electric city from heat, obtained by combustion of fossil fuel such as coal, oil and gas. But such combustion generates not only heat but also greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide and oxides of Nirogen.The only alternative to generate power without any greenhouse gas emission is to use a fuel with zero carbon. However, oxides of Nitrogen will still be an issue as long as we use air for combustion because atmospheric air has almost 79% Nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Therefore it becomes necessary to use an alternative fuel as well as an alternative power generation technology in the future to mitigate greenhouse problems.

Hydrogen is an ideal fuel to mitigate greenhouse gases because combustion of Hydrogen with oxygen from air generates only water that is recyclable. Combining Hydrogen with Oxygen using Fuel cell, an electrochemical device is certainly an elegant solution to address greenhouse problems. But why Hydrogen and Fuel cell are not commonly available? Hydrogen is not available freely even though it is abundantly available in nature. It is available as a compound such as water (H2O) or Methane (CH4) and Ammonia (NH3). First we have to isolate Hydrogen from this compound as free Hydrogen and then store it under pressure. Hydrogen can easily form an explosive mixture with Oxygen and it requires careful handling. Moreover it is a very light gas and can easily escape. It has to be compressed and stored under high pressure.

Generation of pure Hydrogen from water using Electrolysis requires more electricity that it can generate. However, Hydrogen cost can be reduced using renewable energy source such as solar thermal. The solar thermal can also supply thermal energy for decomposing Ammonia into Hydrogen and Nitrogen as well as to supply endothermic heat necessary for steam reformation of natural gas into Hydrogen. On-site Hydrogen generation using solar thermal using either electricity or heat can become a commercial reality. Hydrogen generation at higher temperatures such as Ammonia decomposition or steam reformation can be directly used in Fuel cell such as Phosphoric acid Fuel cell.

Phosphoric acid fuel cell is a proven and tested commercial Fuel cell that is used for base load power generation. It is also used for CHP applications. Hydrogen generation using solar thermal and power generation using Fuel cell is already a commercial reality and also an elegant solution to mitigate greenhouse gases. Large scale deployment of Fuel cell and solar thermal will also cut the cost of installations and running cost competing with fossil fuel.Fuecell technology has a potential to become a common solution for both power generation and transportation.

While Government can encourage renewable energy by subsidizing PV solar panels and discourage fossil fuel by imposing carbon tax, they should give preference and higher tariff for power purchase from Solar thermal and Fuel cell power generators. This will encourage large-scale deployment of Fuel cell as a potential base load power source.

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