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Diesel-Powered Fuel Cell Produces Clean Electricity
Photo: FCGEN Project

Although several options to store hydrogen as a fuel for cars have been investigated, a practical and affordable way to store and distribute hydrogen is still the biggest hurdle to the wide deployment of green, CO2-emission-free cars. Now researchers in Europe have built a demonstration system that might be a first step in circumventing the limitations on hydrogen distribution and storage; they simply extract hydrogen from diesel fuel on the go.  

The research group, "Fuel Cell Based Power Generation (FCGEN)," which includes researchers from Volvo Technology (Sweden), Johnson-Matthey (United Kingdom), Modelon AB (Sweden), PowerCell AB (Sweden), Jožef Stefan Institute (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Forschungszentrum Jülich (Germany) and Fraunhofer ICT-IMM (Mainz, Germany) announced in a recent press release the creation of a prototype 3-kilowatt, diesel-fueled fuel cell system that has operated flawlessly for 10,000 hours. 

The extraction of the hydrogen from the diesel fuel happens through autothermal reforming, a catalytic reaction in which the diesel fuel is decomposed into hydrogen, steam, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.  The CO is then converted to CO2 and water, explains Boštjan Pregelj of the Jožef Stefan Institute, and who is the Principal Investigator of the FCGEN project.

It didn’t escape their notice that the extraction of hydrogen from the diesel fuel releases CO2 directly into the atmosphere.  “Actually all carbon in the diesel is converted to CO2, but since the efficiency [of the overall process] is about five times [that of a diesel] engine idling, fuel consumption is 80 percent lower, and consequently, the produced amount of CO2 is decreased by 80 percent,” says Pregelj. That is why the “green” label was given."

The researchers say that the system could generate between 3 and 10 kW of power in trucks; on small aircraft, it would power air conditioners and refrigeration systems. In addition to lowering CO2 emission, the units produce little noise, making them suitable as mobile electricity generators in places, like field hospitals, where quiet is appreciated. 

The Conversation (1)
matt L18 Oct, 2022
INDV

I would love to see how these do scaled up as a full generator to replace a diesel engine and drivetrain and do an electric semi truck with this a a long haul generator. Since electric is 2.5x+ the efficiency of a ICE drivetrain, if this could have a long enough life, and if the fuel cell is quite efficient at making enough power to keep the truck climbing mountain grades, it would be rather interesting, no need to change infrastructure, just change the service technicians education for it. I'd also be curious if it could end up being a weight savings that could then allow for a higher cargo load capacity. A lot of potential.

This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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