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Category Archives: PEM Fuelcell

Battery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy24hrs batery storage modelBattery 10hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomyBattery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy172 hrs (one week) battery autonomyAfrica- Australia conference

Most of the renewable energy projects that are now set up around the world are grid connected with feed-in power tariff arrangement. People can generate their own electricity by solar/wind to meet their demand and supply the surplus power to the grid at an agreed power rates. They can also draw power from the grid if there is any short fall in their production of renewable energy. It is two-way traffic. There is an opportunity for people to generate revenue by sale of surplus power. It is an incentive for people to invest on renewable energy and that is why the investment on renewable energy has steadily increased over a time. But this is not the case with many developing and under developed countries. The situation is still worse in many islands where there is no centralized power generation at all or power distribution through grids. They depend on diesel generators. Even to transport diesel from mainland they have to use diesel operated boats. They have no drinking water even though they are surrounded by sea. I happened to visit a remote island in PNG few years ago and saw the plight of those people first hand. They live in absolute poverty and nobody cares to offer them a solution. Their voices are never heard and permanently drowned in the deafening roar of the sea.

The problems of supplying clean power and water to these remote islands are not only political but also technical and commercial in nature. One has to use only commercially available systems and components which are meant for a single or three-phase grid connected power supplies. Even though renewable energy sources basically generate only direct current (DC), one has to convert them into alternate current (AC) for easy distribution and to use appliances which are designed for AC operations. Isolated communities like islands can use direct current and also use DC operated appliances because they are commercially available and they are more efficient. Anyhow most of the house appliances need DC supply and AC/DC converters are commonly used for this purpose thus sacrificing efficiency in the process. They also need better storage solutions because they are not connected to the grid and they have to necessarily store power for several days. Some of these islands are connected with inefficient wind turbines backed by diesel generators. It is an absolute necessity to incorporate a long-term storage capabilities in the system if one has to offer a continuous power and clean water. If the wind velocity is not enough (during off seasons) or if there is no sun (cloudy) for days together and if there is not enough storage capacity, then all the investment made on the project will be of no use. Any half-baked solutions will not serve the real purpose.

There are also commercial problems because a well designed system will cost more, which will eventually increase the power tariff. Unless the Government subsidizes the power   sufficiently, people cannot afford to pay for their electricity or water. It requires a careful planning and community consultations to set up a ‘stand alone renewable energy projects in islands’. Governments in the pacific islands should act with great urgency because there is also a risk of inundation by sea level rising due to global warming.

We are in the process of designing a solution to provide such islands with clean power, clean drinking water and even wireless connectivity for schools so that children can get education. It may sound ambitious but it is the first step one has to take into long journey of sustainability and self-reliance by these isolated communities. There is a good possibility that such island may one day become completely independent and self-sufficient with clean power and water.

The same solution can be implemented in other countries too. Many countries have necessary infrastructure to generate and distribute power yet they suffer regular power cuts and black outs due to inefficiencies in their system.

Our proposed solution can provide uninterrupted clean power and water because the system will have long duration centralized energy storage. We have made a detailed analysis of various alternatives available for the above purpose using Homer hybrid solution software. The solution proposes a PV solar with storage solutions using battery bank as well as Fuel cell back up. The solution also proposes a long duration of storage ranging from few hours up to a fortnight .It is a standalone system with complete energy management and suitable for remote operations. The solution can also incorporate wind turbine in addition to PV solar depending upon the site and wind velocity profile.

The model is to supply clean power and drinking water for 600 families with an average 3 people in a family. The system will supply power at the rate of 1.50kwhrs/day/person (1800 x1.5 = 2700kwhrs/day) and drinking water at the rate of 200 lits/day/person (1800 x 200 lit/person= 360,000 lits/day).The power for a desalination plant will be 1980 kwhrs/day. The system is designed for a total power generation capacity of 4680Khwhrs/day.

The model is based on battery storage as well as based on Hydrogen storage with varying durations. Comparative analysis is shown in the figures.

The first window is based on PV solar with  2 months Hydrogen autonomy.

The third window is based on PV solar with battery storage 5 days and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomy.

The fourth and fifth window is based on PV solar with battery 12hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs storage autonomy with varying panel costs

The sixth window is based on PV solar with 172 hrs (one week) battery autonomy.

The resulting analysis indicates that a centralized Hydrogen storage with Fuel cell back up offers the most economical solution even though the power tariff is higher than a system with battery storage. The investment for long duration battery storage is almost double that of Hydrogen based solution. The cost can further be reduced if and when the Electrolyzers as well as Fuel cells are manufactured on mass scale. The added advantage with this system is it can also provide Hydrogen fuel for Fuel cell cars and boats substituting diesel. One day it may become a reality that these isolated islands can become completely self sufficient in terms of water, fuel and power with no greenhouse gas emissions. This solution can be replicated to all the islands all over the world.


The above system can also be installed in many developing countries in Africa which is an emerging market. An Africa-Australia Infrastructure Conference  will be held in Melbourne, Australia on 2-3 September  2013 and it will offer a platform for Australian companies to invest in Africa on infrastructural projects.

Synthesis of Ammonia is one of the  remarkable achievements of Chemical engineering in forties .It is a precursor for Urea, the fertilizer  that  brought about ‘Green revolution’ in agriculture industry and helped to achieve record food production all over the world. It was a milestone in modern chemistry to synthesis a molecule containing I atom of Nitrogen and 3 atoms of Hydrogen, represented by NH3 called Ammonia. The HeberBosch process for the production of Ammonia is a well established mature, commercial technology.

The process uses a Hydrocarbon source such as Naphtha or Natural gas as the feed stock to generate a synthesis gas composed of Hydrogen and Carbondioxide.The gas mixture is separated into carbon dioxide and Hydrogen using PSA (pressure swing adsorption ) technology. The resulting Hydrogen is used to combine with Nitrogen to synthesize Ammonia.

The chemical reaction can be represented by the following equation.

N2 + 3H2 ———- 2 NH3

The above reaction takes place at a pressure of 100-200 bars and temperature of 300-500C in presence of  catalysts. It is an exothermic (heat releasing) reaction and the catalyst bed is cooled and maintained at 400C to be efficient.But this process of Hydrogen generation using Hydrocarbon emits greenhouse gases. Alternatively, Hydrogen can be generated using different methods using renewable energy sources using water electrolysis. Such process may be used in the future for this application.

Nitrogen is derived from atmospheric air. The air we breathe has about 79% of Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen. But these two gases can be separated by liquefying the air by cryogenic process and distilling them into two fractions. Alternatively, they can separated using pressure swing adsorption or membrane separation process, utilizing their density differences. In either way, Nitrogen can be separated from atmospheric air. By combining the above Hydrogen and Nitrogen, it is possible to synthesis Ammonia on a commercial-scale.

The ammonia can be easily split into Hydrogen and Nitrogen by passing Ammonia through a bed of Nickel catalyst at 200-400C as and when required to generate on site Hydrogen. This Hydrogen can be used for power generation or to run our cars using PEM Fuelcell.As we have seen previously, we are now looking for various sources of Hydrogen, and Ammonia is one of the promising sources for couple of reasons. The process and technology of Ammonia production, transportation and usage is well documented and has been practiced for few decades. It does not emit  greenhouse gases.Liquified Ammonia has been widely used in air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. Ammonia can be easily metered into any system directly from the cylinder.

It is easier to use Ammonia directly into a convention internal combustion engines in place of Gasoline and this technology has already been practiced in 1880. Ammonia is pungent and any leakage can be easily identified. The advantage of using Ammonia as a fuel in cars, it does not emit any smoke  but only water vapour.It can be admixed with Gasoline or used as 100% anhydrous Ammonia. It also helps in reduction of NO2 emission, especially is diesel engines.

Ammonia has a great potential as a source of future fuel provided the sources of Hydrogen comes from water using renewable technologies or by photo electrolysis using direct sunlight.

Renewable Hydrogen is the key that can offer us energy independence in the twenty-first century. Fossil fuel usage will still continue for some more time because the world has already invested massively on fossil fuel infrastructures. The stacks are too high for them to switch over to renewable over night. It is the Mother Nature who provided us coal, oil and gas all these years using her manufacturing process under the earth over millions of years. But we human beings exceeded her tolerance limit by emitting greenhouse emission by our rapid growth in population and industrialisation.We failed to discover an alternate fuel in time and continued with an age-old technology with all its inefficiencies. Inefficiencies breed pollution. We were keen to use the heat of combustion by burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity or drive our cars, but paid no attention to the gases released during such combustion. We learnt Thermodynamics and the relationship between heat and work, but failed to understand the consequences of gases of combustion and its impact on our environment.

There are two issues involved in burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity. The heat of combustion is an exothermic reaction and we get a certain amount of heat. Then we convert this heat energy into electrical energy and the overall efficiency of such conversion is about thirty-five percent. Only thirty-five percent of the heat input energy becomes electrical energy and the remaining sixty-five percent heat along with gases of combustion are released into atmosphere. Of course part of this heat is recovered in a commercial plant, but the bulk of heat is released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. We failed to understand the potential of Hydrogen even though we used Hydrocarbon for several decades. We even discovered Urea, the fertilizer that caused ‘green revolution’ in agriculture, using the same Hydrogen present in the Hydrocarbon feedstock. It is time for us to make best use of a fossil fuel to its most potential when we burn each kilogram of fuel. We should burn coal not just with air but also with steam so that we can generate Hydrogen rich gas that can run a gas turbine in a combined cycle or run our cars on roads. Such a conversion will lead to a substantial increase in energy efficiency as well as in greenhouse gas emission reduction. Governments in industrialized countries should make it a mandatory to convert all their power plants to syngas generation as described above. They should also discourage new plants using fossil fuels with punitive power tariffs and encourage renewable energy projects with higher tariffs. Governments can also impose similar tariffs for transportation depending upon the fuel used such as fossil fuel or Hydrogen.

Governments should encourage renewable energy projects such as solar and wind   to generate Hydrogen from water as centralized power plants and distribute DC (direct current) by rural electrification. If the country side is electrified using this system then, agriculture, business and industries can thrive in rural areas. Direct current (DC) distribution net work can be installed in rural areas and encourage people to use energy-efficient appliances such as Direct current air-conditioners with energy star ratings and tariffs. Governments can bring about these changes by adopting a ‘carrot and stick ‘policy to encourage renewable and discourage fossil fuels.

Solar energy is the key from which all other forms of energy emanate such as wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion system.  It is of paramount importance to increase the efficiency of renewable systems and improve energy efficiencies of appliances we use. It is simpler to use LED bulbs using a Direct current generated by Renewable Hydrogen. It is once again the Mother Nature that can come to the rescue of human beings through solar, wind and water to generate clean energy for the twenty-first century.

Energy generation and distribution is no longer a business or revenue issue but a moral and ethical issue for Governments. It is only people who can bring about such sweeping changes by electing the right Government who can care for the environment. The future generation will judge us only based on what kind of environment we leave them behind.

In a Regenerative fuel cell the results of redox reaction between Hydrogen and Oxygen, are power and water; the above reaction can be reversed in the same electrochemical process to regenerate hydrogen and oxygen. Such a system is called ‘regenerative fuel cell’. It is a perfect example of a closed circuit system. In ancient Hindu mythology there were citations that claim water came from fire and fire came from water. Two gaseous elements Hydrogen and oxygen reacts violently rather explosively resulting in cool water. Perhaps Hindu mythology terms this reaction as fire which results in water. Similarly by passing a direct current into water, it splits water into oxygen and regenerates Hydrogen, which is a symbolic representation of Fire. Many would have watched a number of ‘you tube videos footings’ on water gas. The water gas or Brown’s gas is a mixture of Hydrogen and oxygen along with un-dissociated water molecules liberated during the process of electrolysis. It can be lit into a flame similar to Oxy-acetylene flame and can be used even to cut metal plates. That is the power of brown’s gas, which I call Oxy-Hydrogen gas. This torch is commercially marketed for metal cuttings applications. But production of pure Hydrogen completely free from Oxygen is a matter of great commercial importance.

Hydrogen is one of the lightest gases and it has a strong bondage with noble metals like Platinum and Palladium. Platinum  catalyst with carbon as a carrier has a wider industrial applications such as hydrogenation in fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The author has experience in such applications in bulk drug manufacturing such as Ephedrine and Paracetamol. In a PEM (Proton exchange membrane fuel cell) MEA (membrane electrode assembly) is the heart. The Platinum catalyst coated on the surface of the ‘Nafion’ membrane reacts with gaseous Hydrogen gas. It strips the electron from hydrogen atom while the polymer membrane allows only proton to pass through. The expelled electron flows around the circuit. Flow of electron is nothing but current or electricity. The proton crosses the membrane and reacts with incoming Oxygen through cathode forming water. It is an exothermic reaction and generates heat similar to any combustion reaction, that has to be dissipated.In larger installation we can use this waste heat for a typical CHP (combined heat and power applications) such as power and steam or chilled water or for space cooling. Fuel cell (based on Hydrogen fuel) operates quietly with absolutely no emission except water, and of course, there is no smoke. It is an ideal power source for 24×7 applications such as hospitals, call centers, departmental stores and continues process industries.

In the reverse process of a Fuel cell, the electrochemical device becomes an Electrolyzer splitting water into Hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyzer works the same way as Fuel cell except in reverse direction; feed is de-ionized water and the products are Hydrogen and Oxygen. In bipolar alkaline electrolyzer, a catalyst such as potash lye is added where in solid polymer electrolyzers platinum acts as a catalyst like a Fuelcell. The generated Hydrogen comes under pressure obviating the use of an extra compressor. The Hydrogen is stored in cylinders for further usage.

As I mentioned in my previous articles the power required to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen is more than the power generated from the resulting Hydrogen by a Fuelcell.That means an input of excess energy is necessary for a regenerative fuel cell to run successfully .Where this energy will come from depends on the cost benefit analysis to be made. Surplus Hydro power is ideal for such regenerative fuel cell applications. But we can also use various other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, OTEC depending upon the site and applications. The biggest advantage with regenerative fuel cell is there is no other input except the excess power to be supplied. When renewable energy is deployed on large commercial scales then regenerative fuel cell will become a clean solution of the future. I have no doubt in my mind that this will become a commercial reality. Of course the top policy makers should understand the potential and make a right decision and encourage more business and industries to deploy such systems. The energy costing model cannot be based on fossil fuel model because fossil fuel is not renewable. This is the crux of the problem.

In our future articles we will present case studies of various clean energy systems that are already in commercial operation. I also welcome articles from clean energy professionals with life project experience and problems they face. I welcome comments and feedback from business, industries and people.

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