Around 200 years ago, Sir William Robert Grove unearthed a treasure. Until a few years ago, however, this seemed to have been forgotten. This is regrettable, because the British physicist had already found the key to sustainable energy production in 1839. His discovery: the fuel cell. Today, fuel cell technology is gaining in importance. When it comes to reconciling energy hunger, resource consumption and environmental protection, fuel cell technology plays a key role. Environmentally friendly operating materials, higher energy efficiency and a long service life are all hallmarks of the fuel cell. It is a true multi-talent and can be used in numerous applications. For example, in new mobility concepts. Fuel cell technology provides a viable solution in cars, trucks and buses to move closer to the EU’s ambitious CO2 emissions targets. In stationary applications, it also delivers its almost inexhaustible potential. Whether as an emergency power generator for mobile phone masts, in smart traffic applications or as an off-grid alternative for camping holidaymakers and sailors – fuel cell technology is always the linchpin of reliable and environmentally friendly power generation. But how does it work in detail? Can the fuel cell function be explained simply?
Indeed: the fuel cell’s mode of operation is simple to explain. In principle, the function of a fuel cell is similar to that of a battery. It also has an anode and a cathode and is an electrochemical cell, just like the battery. The difference in the way the fuel cell works, however, is in the fuel. Fuel cell technology relies on either hydrogen or methanol – a member of the alcohol group of substances – as a fuel. Incidentally, this is not stored directly in the power unit as it is with the battery. During operation of the fuel cell, it reaches the anode from a tank, such as a canister or a hydrogen bottle. In order to produce electricity, it needs oxygen. It is added to the cathode as an oxidant. This process is the same for both hydrogen and Direct methanol fuel cells. Since hydrogen wants to react with oxygen to form water on its own, it does not need any energy from outside. The same applies to the direct methanol fuel cell. The methanol (CH3OH) reacts with the water to form carbon dioxide and H+ ions. This almost concludes the short excursion on the fuel cell, its explanation and function. But there is much more to discover.
SFC Energy AG has positioned itself as a pioneer and important innovation driver in the fuel cell technology market. With its direct methanol fuel cells from the EFOY, EMILY and JENNY product series, it covers the high requirements of its customers in the best possible way. The power units have a power range from 25 W up to 1.5 kW. With the EFOY Hydrogen, SFC Energy also has a hydrogen fuel cell for high power requirements from 1.5 kW up to 50 kW in its product portfolio. This already impressively demonstrates that fuel cell technology is powerful enough to satisfy the energy needs of both private and professional users. In this respect, they are in no way inferior to conventional energy producers. On the contrary. Compared to combustion engines, fuel cell technology has other decisive advantages. The biggest is certainly their environmental friendliness. While conventional generators emit harmful exhaust gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and also fine dust, the hydrogen fuel cell only produces waste heat and water vapour as by-products.
At the same time, fuel cell technology operates far more quietly than conventional combustion units. It thus facilitates work during maintenance operations and makes an important contribution in terms of health and safety at the workplace. Fuel cell technology is therefore quieter during operation because it has almost no mechanical parts. Therefore, the noise emissions of the fuel cell technology of about 45 dB(A) correspond to the noise level of a quiet flat or birds chirping. Without moving, i.e. mechanical parts, fuel cell technology has yet another advantage: It is far less subject to wear than combustion engines. Maintenance work is reduced to a minimum. This also applies to refuelling. Fuel cell technology gets by with the operating fuel (methanol or hydrogen) for longer than conventional generators. In the case of direct methanol fuel cells – as with the EFOY fuel cell mode of operation – no special or lengthy training of personnel is required to replace the canisters. Users can easily carry out the exchange themselves. This is a weighty argument, because the ecological and economical mode of operation of fuel cell technology reduces time expenditure and operating costs.
More and more private users as well as professional user sectors from industry, the mobility sector or telecommunications are becoming aware of the numerous advantages of fuel cell technology compared to energy generators based on fossil fuels. No wonder, because as a true multi-talent, fuel cell technology offers sustainable solutions for almost every requirement. Whether as the core of tomorrow’s mobility or in stationary systems. In e-mobility, it offers a decisive advantage over battery-powered models: Long loading times are eliminated. Vehicles that rely on fuel cell technology can be refuelled just as quickly as a petrol-powered one. The range problem is also of no consequence. With a full hydrogen tank, the vehicle can travel about 500 to 600 kilometres. Large automobile companies have been working on powering vehicles with fuel cell technology since the early 1990s. So far, however, with moderate success. The main problem with cars with fuel cell technology is the high production costs. This is due, among other things, to the expensive platinum used. This is another reason why SFC Energy relies on recycling the components. Fuel cells by SFC Energy are 95 per cent recyclable.
While the adaptation of fuel cell technology for mobile applications is once again coming into focus, it has already become indispensable for numerous stationary systems. Above all, it serves as a reliable energy generator far from the conventional power grid. In critical infrastructures such as mobile phone masts of the digital public authority radio (BOSNet), the EFOY Hydrogen Fuel Cell 2.5 from SFC Energy acts as an emergency power generator. In the future, it can make an important contribution to autonomous driving in the same capacity. The vehicles must communicate with the repeater stations. An uninterrupted connection is necessary for this. If the power ever fails, the EFOY Hydrogen steps in as an emergency generator. In stationary smart traffic applications, fuel cell technology powers the flexible traffic signs. For private users, the EFOY direct methanol fuel cell – hybridised with the EFOY lithium battery if required – ensures a power supply on board motor homes, sailing boats and holiday cabins away from the conventional power grid. These are just a few of the many possible applications of SFC Energy’s fuel cell technology.