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SRNL research paves way for portable power systems

Dr. Kit Heung of Savannah River National Laboratory demonstrates a system incorporating a fuel cell and light-weight hydrogen storage material. SRNL's advances in the use of alane, a lightweight material for storing hydrogen, are paving the way for the successful development of portable power systems with capacities that far exceed the best batteries available today. Credit: Savannah River National Laboratory

Dr. Kit Heung of Savannah River National Laboratory demonstrates a system incorporating a fuel cell and light-weight hydrogen storage material. SRNL's advances in the use of alane, a lightweight material for storing hydrogen, are paving the way for the successful development of portable power systems with capacities that far exceed the best batteries available today. Credit: Savannah River National Laboratory

Developments by hydrogen researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) are paving the way for the successful development of portable power systems with capacities that far exceed the best batteries available today. SRNL’s advances in the use of alane, a lightweight material for storing hydrogen, may be the key that unlocks the development of portable fuel cell systems that meet the needs for both military and commercial portable power applications.

SRNL has demonstrated a practical path to portable power systems based on alane and similar high capacity hydrogen storage materials that provide the sought-after high specific energy, which means the amount of energy per weight. Their accomplishments to date include developing a lower-cost method of producing alane, developing a method to dramatically increase the amount of hydrogen it releases, and demonstrating a working system powering a 150 W fuel cell. Portable power equipment manufacturers are looking for systems that can provide specific energies greater than 1000 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg); that’s more than 2 to 3 times the capacity of the best primary lithium batteries today. “Higher specific energy means more energy per weight,” said SRNL’s Dr. Ted Motyka. “The goal is to provide sufficient energy to a system that is light enough to be carried by a soldier or used in unmanned aircraft and other applications where weight is a factor.”

Hydrogen, at 33,000 Wh/kg, has the highest specific energy of any fuel, so it is a natural candidate to fuel such high-capacity systems. The challenge, however, has been developing a material for storing hydrogen with both the high capacity and the low weight needed for portable systems.

SRNL has been working for years on developing several light-weight, high capacity solid-state hydrogen storage materials for automotive applications. While most of these materials do not meet all the various requirements needed for automotive applications, many may be viable for small portable power systems.

One of the most promising materials is aluminum hydride, (AlH3) or alane. Alane, while not a new material, has only in the last few years been considered as a hydrogen storage material for fuel cell applications. SRNL researchers are among only a handful of researchers, worldwide, currently working with alane and beginning to unwrap its material and engineering properties.

Dr. Motyka, Dr. Ragaiy Zidan and Dr. Kit Heung, all of SRNL, led a team to characterize and optimize alane as a hydrogen storage material, develop a small hydrogen storage vessel containing alane, and demonstrate hydrogen release at delivery rates suitable for powering small commercial fuel cells. The results of that work are attracting interest from several commercial companies working in the area of portable power systems.

Alane is one of the classes of materials known as chemical hydrogen storage materials. Like metal hydrides, chemical hydrogen storage materials provide a solid-state storage medium for hydrogen. Unlike metal hydrides, however, chemical hydrogen storage materials, like alane, do not readily reabsorb hydrogen, so once their hydrogen is released the material must be chemically reprocessed to restore its hydrogen. An advantage of alane is its very high hydrogen capacities; it can store twice as much hydrogen, in the same volume, as liquid hydrogen, and can do so at the very high gravimetric capacity of 10 wt%. Alane also exhibits very favorable discharge conditions, making it one of the ideal chemical hydrogen storage materials.

Among the biggest challenges the team addressed were the limited amount of readily available commercial alane, and its high cost to produce – which could be significant impediments to widespread use. As part of this project, they initially developed a bench-scale system to produce the quantities of alane needed for experimental and optimization studies. This work led to the development of a new and potentially lower cost process for producing alane. “Our process overcomes some of the handicaps of traditional methods for producing alane,” says Dr. Zidan. “This novel method minimizes the use of solvents, and is able to produce pure, halide-free alane.”

Work led by Dr. Zidan also resulted in a process to increase the amount of hydrogen that can be extracted from alane. This two-step process was found to double the amount of hydrogen that can be liberated from alane using a traditional one-step process.

A major part of this project was to evaluate alane systems for compatibility with small fuel cell applications. Preliminary results on a proof-of-concept vessel containing approximately 22 grams of alane showed that the system could scale nicely to meet the required hydrogen release rate for a small 100-watt fuel cell system. Based on those results a larger system containing 240 grams of alane was designed, fabricated and tested with a 150 watt commercial fuel cell. The results show that the system was able to operate the fuel cell at near full power for over three hours and at reduced power for several more hours.

Work to date was funded under SRNL’s Laboratory Directed Research & Development program, which supports highly innovative and exploratory research aligned with the Laboratory’s priorities. The success achieved so far has attracted additional funding from the DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, along with interest from commercial firms.

SRNL is DOE’s applied research and development national laboratory at SRS. SRNL puts science to work to support DOE and the nation in the areas of environmental stewardship, national security, and clean energy. The management and operating contractor for SRS and SRNL is Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC.

January 9, 2012 - 11:05 PM No Comments

AFC Energy’s ‘Beta’ Fuel Cell Generates First Industrial Power

AFC Energy (AIM: AFC), a leading developer of alkaline fuel cells, is pleased to announce that further to its announcement on 3 October 2011, it has commenced electrical power generation at AkzoNobel’s Bitterfield plant in Germany.

AFC Energy’s Beta fuel cell systems have been generating electrical power at the AkzoNobel site since late last year.

The two Beta commercial-design fuel cell systems, installed since October 2011, have since been equipped with electrodes for trials, and are fuelled using AkzoNobel’s industrially produced hydrogen. This work follows a series of trials that the Company has been carrying out using a Beta system installed at its UK facilities. AFC Energy uses its own in-house pilot manufacturing to fabricate electrodes required for testing.

This is the first commercial reference site for the generation of data and demonstration of the whole Beta system. The Company expects to be able to publish results from the trials after their completion.

Ian Williamson, CEO of AFC Energy, said: “This development is significant because it confirms our route forwards and paves the way for the commercialisation of the technology for industrial power generation in our primary target markets. We are collecting data to demonstrate the successful operation of the fuel cell in this industrial application.”

January 9, 2012 - 8:00 AM No Comments

India:Hydrogen-powered three-wheeler makes debut

M&M President (Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors) Pawan Goenka poses alongside the hydrogen-powered three-wheeler HyAlfa at the 11th Auto Expo in New Delhi on Monday Photo: S. Subramanium

M&M President (Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors) Pawan Goenka poses alongside the hydrogen-powered three-wheeler HyAlfa at the 11th Auto Expo in New Delhi on Monday Photo: S. Subramanium

The world’s first hydrogen-powered three-wheeler, ‘HyAlfa’, was showcased at the 11th Auto Expo here on Monday.

Part of a development project dubbed ‘DelHy 3w’, a fleet of 15 HyAlfa three-wheelers will run on an experimental basis at Pragati Maidan, where a hydrogen refuelling station has also been set up.

India Trade Organisation Promotion (ITPO) will use the vehicles on an experimental basis. The HyAlfa has been developed under a joint project by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technologies (ICHET), Mahindra & Mahindra and IIT-Delhi, with support from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

“The aim of this project is to convert vehicles so that they can carry and use hydrogen — a carbon-free fuel — and thus remove all pollutants,” Mahindra & Mahindra President (Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors) Pawan Goenka told reporters.

He said the vehicle is not yet ready for commercial production and further fine-tuning will be required before moving in that direction. “Moreover, we also have to look at commercial viability of running a hydrogen-powered three-wheeler as the cost of hydrogen will be around Rs 250 per kg, which is not affordable at all,” he said.

Asked about the possible price of HyAlfa, he said, “When the product is on mass production, it will cost Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 more than a CNG three-wheeler.”

On an average, a CNG three-wheeler costs close to Rs 2 lakh. Commenting on the development, UNIDO-ICHET Managing Director Mustafa Hatipoglu said the DelHy 3w projects aims to demonstrate hydrogen technologies developed by Indian partners for the Indian transport sector.

Project coordinator IIT-Delhi Professor L.M. Das said HyAlfa marks a journey of 20 years from “laboratory to land“.

ITPO Chairperson-cum-Managing Director Rita Menon said the hydrogen-powered three-wheeler could play a role in moving toward a newer, sustainable and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and are specially excited about the cargo version,” she said, adding that her organisation plans to submit a report within three months on the vehicle’s performance to the project organisers.

January 9, 2012 - 7:13 AM No Comments