Alkaline fuel cells, with their very low use of precious metals, are an alternative to PEM fuel cell technology. Another benefit is the higher tolerance to impurities in the supplied hydrogen. The focus of their work is particularly in the stationary sector. Two current projects with systems from AFC Energy bring dynamism to the still rare project landscape with alkaline fuel cells: The cooperation with ABB on their HPC charging solution for electric vehicles and the future project LLEC at the Jülich Research Centre.
Alkaline fuel cell technology has already been around since the 1960s. It was used in space travel as part of the Apollo programme. Over the decades, various companies have been involved with AFCs (alkaline fuel cells). Today, alkaline fuel cells are sold commercially by GenCell from Israel and AFC Energy from the UK.
AFC Energy in particular has recently attracted attention with projects, also in this country. For example, at the end of last year the British company entered into a strategic partnership with ABB to develop a new high-power charging (HPC) solution for e-vehicles and locations with limited grid access. This is based on the CH2ARGE off-grid charging solution and combines an H2 fuel cell system for electricity supply with a battery for energy storage. This system is to be combined with energy storage and fast charging technology from ABB in the course of the cooperation.
According to AFC Energy, the agreements give the company a multi-year right of first refusal to supply H-PowerTM fuel cell systems into ABB’s high-power charging network at international customers where there is no equivalent on-site power demand or where additional resilience is required. Both companies want to market the integrated product together and are developing a communication strategy for the branding and use of the system, according to the AFC website.
In addition to charging stations, the two partners are also looking at other applications. These include logistics hubs and distribution centres, public and private local transport (including bus depots), as well as maritime transport including ports or vertical take-off and landing air units.
Benefits over PEM and SOFC
A major benefit of AFC technology is that the catalysts are platinum-free and therefore cheaper than, for example, polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. In addition, the hydrogen required does not have to be ultra-pure, unlike with PEM technology. This property also tipped the scales in favour of using an AFC fuel cell in the Living Lab Energy Campus (LLEC) future project at the Research Centre Jülich (FZJ). “We see the potential of alkaline fuel cells in stationary applications with long runtimes. The benefit here is the minimal use of precious metals compared to PEM technology,” explains Martin Müller. In addition, the LLEC team leader for hydrogen production emphasises the lower temperature level and the resulting easier start-up behaviour compared to the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC).
… Read more in the latest H2-International e-Journal, Aug 2021
Author: Michael Nallinger