Sustainable energy supply as a critical factor for networked digital systems

This year, a group of hackers managed to gain access to a water treatment plant in the US state of Florida and chemically manipulate water. The population escaped with a scare once again. It was also revealed that the cause of the power blackout in Mumbai on 12 October 2020 may have been a cyber attack on the servers of state-owned power companies. There are many other incidents to mention, all of which make one thing clear: The protection of critical infrastructures with secure, self-sufficient energy has long since ceased to be a purely political issue; it is a basic requirement in view of the societal threats in the 21st century. This development also affects modern, digitalised civil protection and disaster management.

An easy, quiet and highly efficient way to meet this increased demand for electricity and to ensure a diesel-independent (back-up) power supply are energy solutions with methanol or hydrogen-based fuel cells by SFC Energy. Due to their design and efficient operation, they can support the existing and future electronic systems of the emergency services and ensure their independence. Current emergency power solutions are almost exclusively based on generators and battery solutions with limited range. Fuel cell systems are a sensible alternative here. They are not intended as a replacement for batteries, but as a supplement. Batteries have the advantage of high peak current capability, but the decisive disadvantage of limited capacity, which can be excellently compensated for by combining it with fuel cells. In addition to increased self-sufficiency, cost savings are another important advantage of fuel cells. To maintain the power supply with batteries, expensive primary batteries must often be purchased or secondary batteries must be recharged with the corresponding effort. In addition to material, logistics and disposal costs, this leads to additional costs for chargers, generators, fuel and accessories, which are significantly reduced by the use of fuel cells.

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EFOY Hydrogen energy solution by SFC Energy.

Fuel cells charge batteries completely automatically. The system is started and is put back in standby mode when the battery is charged. This means not only will the user always have full power reserves, but the user’s batteries will also last much longer because continuous charging prevents deep discharge. No matter what the application: Fuel cells in fully integrated weatherproof solutions are ready for use within minutes and provide power for days without user intervention.

The emergency services radio network in all its various facets serves as an example of off-grid backup and emergency power supply for (semi-)stationary systems. In the event of a long-term power outage, states and municipalities must ensure that critical systems are secured for at least 72 hours. SFC's hydrogen fuel cell solutions (EFOY Hydrogen) are already being used in the energy curing of the emergency services digital radio network.

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Energy system consisting of fuel cell and battery storage by AXSOL GmbH and SFC Energy AG.

The same advantages become clearer when one considers the portable generation of electricity. Small, lightweight and flexible power supply solutions with fuel cells can save up to 80 per cent of the battery weight to be carried. In view of the increasing "portable energy demand" due to mobile situation maps, GPS trackers, drones or multifunctional handhelds, etc., weight reduction in particular is a "game changer" for the emergency services. It allows for a longer mission duration and increases the safety of the task forces. Emergency services forces must in the event of further digitalisations operate quickly and efficiently on the ground in exceptional situations and disasters, but also in everyday threat situations. For these reasons, modern systems require an alternative power supply with far better properties in order to take full advantage of the possibilities of digitalisation.

An illustrative example is the integration into government vehicles and unmanned platforms. The IT modernisation of many vehicles has resulted in a significant increase in energy demand. The technology used in and on the vehicle, such as special signal equipment, specific lighting equipment and communications technology, requires a reliable 12 V or 24 V supply. The on-board power supply with energy from the alternator has extremely poor efficiency with high diesel consumption. Furthermore, wear parts in the vehicle are greatly stressed by idling - even when cold, which leads to a higher maintenance effort. In idle mode, the fuel consumption is higher by a factor of 20 than in operation with fuel cells. Space is also very valuable in government vehicles, so power sources need to be light, compact and small.

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Integration of the fuel cell into a team van/first responder vehicle of the Brunnthal fire brigade.

When the engine is running, some of the electricity generated is consumed directly and the vehicle battery only conditionally suitable by batteries due to the limitation of the possible runtime, as the batteries are otherwise deeply discharged. However, battery conservation and an extension of the life cycle through deep discharge protection - especially in winter - are important factors with regard to overall social trends such as "sustainability" and "digitalisation". For the on-board power supply, one or more power storage units are required in addition to power generators. A reduction of the vehicle weight by saving additional batteries is thus another advantage offered by the integration of fuel cells on board. The energy source methanol thus makes a decisive contribution to environmental protection, resource conservation and sustainable energy management.

As mentioned, fuel cells are not intended to replace batteries, but to complement them. Depending on the operating mode, the consumers are subject to different usage. Emergency services operations therefore require an energy concept designed for the individual case or operation. SFC is working with promising partners to combine battery and fuel cell technology and integrate them into highly efficient, fail-safe system solutions. While the power storage systems ("sprinters") enable maximum flexibility, the EFOY fuel cell ("marathon runners") is used as an environmentally friendly, powerful and continuous energy source in numerous applications. The fuel cells replace or substitute generators as a source of residual load, while battery storage systems serve to temporarily store the energy from the fuel cells and can be optimally tailored to the application requirements. Furthermore, DMFCs reduce the local dependency on fossil fuels due to the savings potential, which must be used elsewhere in the event of a shortage. Thus, in the event of a fuel supply shortage, operations must be prioritised accordingly. A differentiation of fuel logistics - especially with regard to the number and operation of emergency power systems - is thus an important component in modern concepts for civil protection and disaster management.

The on-demand power generation of the overall fuel cell-battery system can achieve considerable savings in terms of fuel, material conservation, etc. compared to a conventional solution. Compared to diesel generators, fuel cells are almost maintenance-free, easy to operate and just as durable. In addition to simplifying operating and fuel logistics, fuel cells, unlike diesel generators, are easy to transport and can be used anywhere and at any time. This results in greater flexibility in terms of energy self-sufficiency. In addition to the significant reduction in CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions, particulate matter emissions can be completely avoided.

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