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.