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Energy Department Announces up to $4 Million for Advanced Hydrogen Storage

In support of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, the Energy Department today announced up to $4 million in fiscal year 2014 funding for the continued development of advanced hydrogen storage systems and novel materials to provide adequate onboard storage for a wide range of applications including fuel cell electric vehicles, and for emerging fuel cell applications such as material handling equipment. These investments are helping to reduce the nation’s reliance on gasoline and diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio while reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Advances in hydrogen storage will be critical to the widespread commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Developing systems to enable lightweight, compact, and inexpensive hydrogen storage will enable longer driving ranges and help make fuel cell systems competitive in a range of applications. Selected projects will help maintain the rapid pace of fuel cell progress, expand the markets and applications in which fuel cells can compete, and reduce institutional and market barriers that may impede the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technologies. Topic areas include:

Topic 1—Reducing the cost of compressed hydrogen storage systems: Projects selected under this topic will develop complete, cost competitive, compressed hydrogen storage systems such as, but not limited to, novel tank designs, cost reduction concepts, carbon fiber reduction or elimination, conformable tank designs, alternative operating conditions (e.g., cold/cryogenic compressed hydrogen), and advanced state-of-the-art compressed tank manufacturing.

Topic 2—Improved materials for fiber composites and balance of plant components: Projects selected under this topic will focus on the development of cost competitive high-strength fibers and composite components such as use of less expensive precursor fibers, use of low-cost carbon fiber manufacturing processes, development of improved resin matrices, or development of alternative materials to carbon such as glass or polymers. In addition, projects selected under this topic will develop improved, cost competitive materials for balance-of-plant components including the identification and characterization of materials that can be used to reduce the cost and mass of BOP components for compressed hydrogen systems with an emphasis on seals and non-metallic materials.

Topic 3—New hydrogen storage materials discovery for automotive, portable, and material handling equipment applications: Projects selected under this topic will focus on the discovery, characterization, and development of advanced hydrogen storage materials. Applications for material discovery will focus on materials that possess key thermodynamic, kinetic, and capacity requirements for complete storage systems to meet the challenging system targets for automotive and emerging non-automotive applications.

The Energy Department will make available up to $4 million in fiscal year 2014 for projects from industry, academia, and national labs. Up to three awards are anticipated based on currently available fiscal year 2014 funding. More information, application requirements, and instructions can be found on the EERE Funding Opportunity Exchange website. The presentationPDF and a Q&A documentPDF from the May 13 pre-solicitation meeting are also available.

October 29, 2013 - 4:22 PM Comments: Closed

Fuel Cell Buses Arrive in San Remo

San Remo Fuel Cell Buses

In San Remo, 3 buses have arrived in September 2013. The 4th and 5th buses will arrive by mid-November. 2 buses already have their license plate. All buses will be ready for operation by 31 January 2014. They will be in a testing phase in February and March 2014, with a plan for full operation in April 2014. The buses will be operating in 2 lines: on one line (La Brezza – Villa Helios) 3 fuel cell buses will fully substitute the trolleybuses currently operating, while on the second line (Sanremo – Taggia), the fuel cell buses will constitute half of the fleet.

The case of San Remo/Riviera Trasporti is particularly of interest, as instead of moving from combustion engines to clean transportation, Riviera Trasporti is replacing its electric fleet (trolleybuses – clean transport) by fuel cell buses.

As for the refueling infrastructure, a mobile refueling station will be used in the first half of 2014, which will enable a direct full operation of the buses once delivered. By mid-June 2014, the fixed refueling station shall be ready for operation while the whole infrastructure shall be ready by mid September 2014.

Electrolysis will build at least 60% of the hydrogen required. For the remaining 40%, tube trailers will be used. The next step will be that part of the hydrogen initially delivered by tube trailer will be produced on-site by solar energy.

October 29, 2013 - 8:24 AM Comments: Closed

Stanford engineers develop fuel cell that can deliver record power-per-square inch at record-low temperatures

Bumpy redesign of solid oxide membrane offers more surface area for reaction and leads to better performance.

By Matt Davenport

Faster. Smaller. Cooler. Nanotechnology researchers love adding -er to words. Professor Fritz Prinz of the Nanoscale Prototyping Laboratory at Stanford School of Engineering admits that he’s rather fond of -est.

Prinz led a team of engineers that created a solid oxide fuel cell capable of delivering the most power-per-square inch yet developed, at record-low temperatures.

The U.S. Department of Energy is interested in solid oxide fuel cells as clean energy sources for the future. Using domestic fuel sources, these fuel cells could support or replace large-scale, oil-driven energy production. For this to happen, the cells must be made to run more efficiently and at lower temperatures.

The Stanford team made strides towards this goal and reported its milestone in a recent edition of Nano Letters. The journal Science also featured the work as an Editors’ Choice.

Frederich Prinz

This record-setting performance is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of research performed by several generations of students. Their work began in 1999, when the Honda Motor Company approached Prinz with a straightforward request.

“They wanted better fuel cells,” he recalls. Solid oxide fuel cells are also strong candidates for auxiliary power sources in automobiles, according to the DOE.

Solid oxide fuel cells are compartmentalized, stackable units or cells. Each cell is made up of three components: a fuel, an oxygen supply and a special membrane that facilitates an energy-producing reaction.

The fuel, typically hydrogen or natural gas, is supplied by a canister or tank. Oxygen comes from the air. Separating the fuel from the oxygen is a membrane made of a solid oxide material. That membrane transports negatively charged oxygen ions from the oxygen side to the fuel side of the cell.

membrane of a solid oxide fuel cell

This bristly, bumpy membrane designed by Stanford engineers is the centerpiece of the most powerful, coolest-running solid oxide fuel cell of its size. (Reprinted with permission from An, J.; Kim, Y.-B.; Park, J.; Gür, T.M.; Prinz, F.B. Three-Dimensional Nanostructured Bilayer Solid Oxide Fuel Cell with 1.3 W/cm2 at 450 ℃. Nano Lett. 2013,13, 4551-4555. Copyright 2013 American Chemical Society.)

The membrane is lightly coated with platinum particles. On the oxygen side of the membrane, these particles help break neutral oxygen molecules into negatively charged oxygen ions. The solid oxide material shuttles these ions through the membrane to the fuel side. Once there, these ions react with the fuel, liberating electrons, the particle basis of electricity. Freed electrons can then be wired into a device such as a light bulb, a smartphone or a car.

The Stanford researchers sought to solve a burning problem in current fuel cell technology. Ions move faster at higher temperatures, meaning the devices operate more efficiently as they grow hotter. Current cells typically run at temperatures well above 500 degrees Celsius, or roughly 900 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to melt the zinc in pennies.

An external energy source, such as a furnace or a battery-powered heater, can be used to supply an initial burst of heat to get the ions moving through the membrane. Once the oxygen and fuel react, they generate heat that can be recycled back into the fuel cell to keep it running. Lowering the temperature at which a fuel cell operates would reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain sufficiently high reaction rates and sufficiently fast ion flow. It would also expand the list of materials that could be used in fuel cell construction, allowing for less expensive and more robust designs.

But there has been a tradeoff. Lower temperatures have also meant slower reaction rates and slower ion transport. Prinz and his team wanted to make their fuel cells run cooler without letting slow-moving ions sap the efficiency of the system. The key was redesigning the solid oxide membrane to conduct oxygen ions more effectively at lower temperatures.

“Oxygen is the bottleneck,” says Jihwan An, a Stanford post-doctoral scholar and first author of the Nano Letters article. “That’s why most of our efforts and innovations were focused on the oxygen side of the membrane.”

Conventional solid oxide fuel cell membranes are flat. Flat membranes, while easier to fabricate, are not the most effective use of space, the Stanford researchers decided.

So they made a series of improvements to the critical solid oxide membrane.

First, they made their membranes bumpy to increase the surface area that could shuttle oxygen ions. Then they made these bumpy surfaces bristle like sandpaper to further increase the potential points of contact between the solid oxide and the charged oxygen. Another improvement involved fabricating extraordinarily thin membranes to make it easier for ions to cross over to the fuel side. At a thickness of 60 nanometers, the membrane described in Nano Letters is roughly 200 times thinner than cellophane.

The Stanford engineers added yet another feature to improve the efficiency of their fuel cell. They coated their membrane with a new catalyst designed to help usher ions into the membrane.

Finally they gave this catalytic layer its own nano-bristles for the same reason they roughed up the surface of the membrane: to give oxygen ions more opportunities to become absorbed into the reaction.

Other authors on the report include Stanford materials science and engineering graduate student Joonsuk Park; Consulting Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Turgut Gür; and corresponding author Professor Young-Beom Kim of Hanyang University in South Korea. Gür is also the Executive Director of Stanford’s DOE-EFRC Center for Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion.

Prinz believes that their new techniques could help advance progress toward further lowering the operating temperatures of solid oxide fuel cells without compromising performance. These are pivotal steps for solid oxide fuel cells toward becoming commercial power supplies in the future.

“We’re interested in the extent to which nature can be finessed to advance energy efficiency,” Prinz said.

October 29, 2013 - 7:22 AM Comments: Closed

Scientists to gain from inside view of fuel cells

Powerful scanners that give scientists a direct line of sight into hydrogen fuel cells are the latest tools Simon Fraser University researchers will use to help Ballard Power Systems Inc create more durable, lower-cost fuel cells. Use of these fuel cells in vehicles can substantially reduce harmful emissions in the transportation sector.

The new Nano X-ray Computed Tomography (NXCT) tools will become part of a nationally unique fuel cell testing and characterization facility. The new four-year, $6.5 million project is receiving $3.39 million in funding from Automotive Partnership Canada (APC).

It’s one of 10 university-industry partnerships receiving a total of more than $52 million ($30 million from APC, leveraged by more than $22 million from industry and other partners) announced today by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Research carried out in the new visualization facility, expected to be operational by spring, will further the ongoing research collaboration between Ballard and SFU.

“This will be an unprecedented, world-class testing facility dedicated entirely to this project over the next four years,” says principal investigator Erik Kjeang, an internationally known fuel cell expert and director of SFU’s Fuel Cell Research Laboratory (FCRel). “Beyond its capabilities, that’s a strength in itself.”

Says Ballard’s Research Manager Shanna Knights: “It’s a unique opportunity, to have dedicated access to highly specialized equipment and access to university experts who are focused on Ballard’s needs.”

Researchers will use the facility to develop and advance the technology required for the company’s next generation of fuel cell products, helping to meet its targets related to extending fuel cell life while improving efficiency.

Kjeang, an assistant professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, says the new, sophisticated nano-scale scanning capabilities will enable researchers to see inside the fuel cell micro-structure and track how its components degrade over time. The research will play an important role in the university’s focus on advancing clean energy initiatives.

“Partnerships with leading companies such as Ballard solidify SFU’s reputation as a world-class innovator in fuel cell research,” says Nimal Rajapakse, dean and professor, Faculty of Applied Sciences. “This unique fuel cell testing facility will be used for cutting edge research and training of HQP (highly qualified personnel) that will help to strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian automotive and clean energy industry. We are grateful that Automotive Partnership Canada has provided this second round of funding to support the SFU-Ballard research collaboration.”

Adds Kjeang: “Thanks to the APC program, and the support NSERC has provided over the years, I have been able to both explore the fundamentals of fuel cell technology and to successfully work with companies who are making globally leading advances in green automotive technology.”

A former research engineer who began his career at Ballard in 2008, Kjeang came to SFU to continue his own research interests while keeping a foot in industry. He also continues to lead a complementary project with Ballard that involves nearly 40 students and researchers working to improve the durability of heavy-duty bus fuel cells.

Simon Fraser University is Canada’s top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.

October 29, 2013 - 6:13 AM Comments: Closed