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Welcome to the archives of the IEA OPEN Energy Technology Bulletin, a free newsletter from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its Committee on Energy Research and Technology. The OPEN Bulletin provides regular updates on activities within the IEA's energy technology and R&D community that are contributing to energy security and protection of the environment and climate worldwide.

 

No.7, 22 November 2002

Special Issue - IEA's Advanced Fuel Cells Programme

This Special Issue presents the activities and achievements of the IEA's Advanced Fuel Cells Programme. It is one of some forty programmes within the IEA's international energy technology collaboration framework. For more information on the framework: http://www.iea.org/Textbase/techno/index.asp


An alternative to fossil fuels

Why do fuel cells promise to play an increasingly strong role in tomorrow's energy supply? Because they offer a serious alternative to centralised fossil fuel electricity generation and to the internal combustion engine. As world-wide concern grows over global climate change, limited energy resources and security of supply, fuel cells become an increasingly attractive option.

Indeed, the President of the European Commission recently pointed to a vision of Europe in a post-fossil fuel era, where homes generate the power they need from renewable energy sources, store it as hydrogen and harness the power using fuel cells for use when needed.

Power generation, ...

Fuel cells are well suited to distributed power generation and combined heat and power (CHP). Markets for both are expanding steadily. By 2015, Europe, Japan and the USA could have significant installed power generation capacity. The market looks particularly promising in Japan, where conventional power generation costs are high, and Japan's residential market is currently a main target for stationary-application fuel cells.

... but also transportation

Fuel cells for mobile applications on road and rail are also becoming a reality. For example, Honda plans to lease 30 hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars in California and Tokyo by the end of 2002, and DaimlerChrysler plans to deploy a large fleet of fuel cell cars and buses in 2003. Fuel cells are also being considered as a replacement for the diesel train engine.

The body of stakeholders grows

This week, experts and policy-makers have gathered in Palm Springs, California for the 2002 Fuel Cells Seminar "Fuel Cells - Reliable and Clean Energy for the World". A major annual event in the fuel cells calendar, this international seminar attracts participants from industry, the research community, government and, increasingly, from investment companies. Full details can be found at http://www.gofuelcell.com.

Members of the IEA Advanced Fuel Cells Programme are naturally active Seminar participants, organising a number of meetings in association with the event. Expert workshops are notably updating attendees on Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, Fuel Cells for Transportation and Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells.

What is the IEA's Advanced Fuel Cells Programme?

The IEA Advanced Fuel Cells Programme was established in 1990 within the IEA's international energy technology collaborative framework. It brings together fourteen of the world's leading nations in fuel cell research and development. The basic aim is to advance the state of understanding of all contracting parties in the field of advanced fuel cells. To this end, it operates a co-ordinated programme of research, technology development and system analysis. The Programme currently comprises five individual Tasks, also known as Annexes. These focus on Molten Carbonate (MCFC), on Solid Oxide (SOFC) and on Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (PEFC) systems, as well as application in the stationary area and in transport. Information exchange plays a major role, through Task meetings, workshops and reports. Work is undertaken on a task-sharing basis, each participating country providing an agreed level of effort over the period of the Task.

For an overview of the Programme, its areas of work and participation information, see the website at: http:// www.ieafuelcell.com. This provides numerous links to further information on the world of fuel cells.

Joining forces brings results

Through its expert networks, the IEA Advanced Fuel Cells programme has contributed significantly to technology development in participating countries. These networks have enabled specialists to:

  • Share research, development and demonstration results;
  • Define measurement and monitoring techniques;
  • Exchange information on cell, stack and system performance;
  • Collaborate on the development of new procedures and models;
  • Share information on application requirements.

As a result of information exchange among experts, significant technical objectives have been met. Standard test procedures have been developed for MCFC material, cells and stacks. Degradation mechanisms have been identified for MCFC, SOFC and PEFC stacks under real operating conditions. Equally noteworthy, fuel cell systems have been given an initial assessment against user requirements for both stationary and transport applications.
For more details, consult the Programme's 2001 Annual Report:
http://www.ieafuelcell.com/docs/2001Final.pdf. For a document on the Programme's current strategy: http://www.ieafuelcell.com/docs/strat99.pdf.

Some recent successes

A look at just two of the IEA Fuel Cells Programme's current Annexes highlights the sort of technological progress that has been achieved recently.

Polymer Electrolyte and Direct Methanol Fuel Cells - Annex XI

Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) are used for a wide range of applications, notably for road vehicles, residential power and as an alternative to batteries. Promising test results were obtained when a 5-kW PEFC system, developed for residential application, was operated for over 1000 hours. Contributing factors in the success of this PEFC system were: high-performance membrane assemblies; optimised flow in the separator plates; and a natural gas reformer with a very low (<5 ppm) carbon monoxide release (Korea Institute of Energy Research). On a much smaller scale, a 50-W fuel cell to replace the existing nickel-cadmium radio battery was successfully demonstrated, and a fuel cell was used to charge nickel-lithium batteries (Qinetiq, UK).

In the field of components for polymer electrolyte fuel cells, there have been encouraging results in developing carbon monoxide-tolerant anodes. Carbon monoxide enters the fuel cell as a by-product from reforming natural gas to hydrogen and can be potentially very damaging. The Netherlands Energy Research Foundation (ECN) achieved the best carbon monoxide tolerance from their palladium-rich alloy. Meanwhile, Southampton University in the UK found that the voltage (overpotential) needed to oxidise damaging carbon monoxide can be halved if tin is used in addition to platinum in the fuel cell.

A recent breakthrough on direct methanol fuel cells saw the design and construction of a 30-cell system that constitutes a potential replacement for the lithium-based battery used in military telecommunication systems. To learn more, please contact the Annex XI Operating Agent at: kumar@anl.gov.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells - Annex XIII

The IEA Programme's Annex XIII specialises in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), used mainly in power generation and CHP applications. The Annex members report many significant advances during 2001-2002, ranging from cost reduction in larger systems through to conception of more efficient, smaller SOFC units. Interest in SOFC technology has soared, partly due to the U.S. Department of Energy's recently launched Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, designed to accelerate commercialisation of SOFCs by improving performance and reducing cost.

Lower costs and improved operating performance in SOFC demonstration systems have resulted from work by Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation of USA, a leader in tubular SOFC technology. A 100-kW atmospheric system was operated at an efficiency of 46% for two years in the Netherlands and a further 4000 hours in Germany, with no decline in performance.

Substantial progress has been made by various organisations in developing and testing small SOFC units. In Switzerland and Canada this has involved residential SOFC development (Sulzer Hexis, Global Thermoelectric and Fuel Cell Technologies), and, in the United States (Delphi), an automobile auxiliary power unit. On a larger scale, Australia's Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd. is advancing steadily in design and fabrication of a 40-kW power generator using an all-ceramic stack technology. For more information, please contact the Annex XIII Operating Agent: singhal@pnl.gov.

A glance back to 1996-1999

The IEA Programme's activities between 1996 and 1999 offer further examples of major advances for fuel cells. These include: the compilation of an inventory of MCFC stack and systems testing procedures (Annex VI); the exchange of new information on in-situ monitoring of SOFC performance (Annex VII); and the collaborative development of an improved reformer model for the steam reforming of methanol (Annex VIII).

Meanwhile, work on system issues in relation to stationary applications (Annex IX) greatly expanded knowledge on integrating stationary fuel cells into the energy infrastructure. While it is difficult to compare the importance of achievements yet, Annex X's extensive network of transport-sector experts from academia, research institutes and the car industry is seen as a particularly important achievement. This network is being continued by the current Annex XV.
A summary report of the programme from 1996-1999 is accessible at:
http://www.ieafuelcell.com/docs/fin_rep_draftb.pdf.

Contacts

Further information on the IEA Advanced Fuel Cells programme can be obtained from the Programme's website at: http://www.ieafuelcell.com, or by e-mailing Heather Haydock, Secretary to the Programme's Executive Committee: heather.haydock@aeat.co.uk.