Methanol fuel cell FAQ

In the FAQ you can find answers to some of the most frequent questions about methanol and fuel cells. If you do not find the question and answer you are looking for, you are welcome to contact us.

What is a fuel cell?

A fuel cell is an electro chemical energy converter, which transforms the chemical energy directly into a fuel, such as methanol, into electric power. A fuel cell works like a battery. In difference to a battery, the fuel cell does not run out of power and therefore does not need to recharge. This is because a fuel cell is constantly added fuel and combustion air. The advantage of a fuel cell is the efficiency obtained compared to other technologies. The loss in the reaction from fuel to energy is far less.

When was the fuel cell invented?

The first fuel cell was invented back in 1839 by Sir William Robert Grove, physicist and inventor. Grove conducted a series of experiments with what he termed a gas voltaic battery, which ultimately proved that electric current could be produced from an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen over a platinum catalyst.

Over more than 150 years the fuel cell has developed into a more commercial product. In the 1960s fuel cells were sent into space; in the 1970s the oil crisis prompted the development of new and alternative energy sources; in the 1990s the large stationary fuel cell were developed for commercial and industrial locations; in 2007 fuel cells began to be sold commercially as APU and for stationary back up power; during the last couple of years we have seen commercial fuel cell vehicles such as automotives on the streets.

What types of fuel cells do Serenergy provide?

Serenergy manufacturer High Temperature (HT) PEM Fuel Cells. HT PEM fuel cells are similar to LT PEM fuel cells but operates at higher temperatures (150-180 degrees Celsius). Serenergy’s HT PEM fuel cells are integrated with fuel reformers, thereby making it possible to use a wider quality of methanol. HT PEM fuel cells are ideal for commercial use. E.g. it is ideal to power vehicles as range extenders for batteries and small scale commercial buildings.

Why is methanol a good choice in fuel cells?

Methanol is an excellent energy carrier and it is much easier to storage and transport than hydrogen, which has a low energy density, and it is much cleaner than fossil fuel. Methanol can be steam reformed into hydrogen at low temperatures compared to hydrocarbon fuels. Additionally, methanol is naturally occurring, biodegradable and energy dense.

The HT PEM-technology makes it possible for the fuel cell to handle a higher level of impurities oppose to LT PEM fuel cells. Thereby, a wider range of methanol can be applied as fuel.

What is a fuel cell stack?

A single fuel cell consist of a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) and two flow-field plates. In order to obtain a higher level of power the fuel cells are stacked. The assembly of cells is called a fuel cell stack. The scalability of the stacks makes it possible to customise the stacks.

How does a fuel cell differ from a battery?

Fuel cells and batteries are similar because they use a chemical reaction to provide electricity. Once a battery is used up it must either be recharged or thrown away. A fuel cell, on the other hand, will produce electricity as long as it has a fuel supply. The fuel cell is, in other words, refuelled instead of recharged. Therefore, as long as the fuel cell has fuel it will keep running.

What types of fuel cells are there?

There are various types of fuel cells operating on different technologies. Here is a selection of the most significant fuel cell technologies.

Low Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEM)

Operating Temperature: Around 50-100 degrees Celsius

Electrical Efficiency: 40-60%

PEM FC operates at relatively low temperature, have high power density, and can vary output quickly to meet shifts in power demand. In applications where quick startup is required, such as automobility, PEM FCs are well-suited. PEM FCs can be scaled from several watts to several kilowatts and into larger systems. PEM FCs are fueled with hydrogen gas, methanol or reformed gas. The PEM FCs can be applied for a variety of commercial applications within telecommunication, data center and residential markets, to auxiliaries.

High Temperature PEM (HT PEM):

Operating temperature: 100-200  degrees Celsius (Serenergy’s FC products operates at 150-180 degrees Celsius.

Electrical Efficiency: 40-60%

HT PEM FCs are similar to LT PEM FCs, but operates at higher temperatures. HT PEM FCs are often integrated with fuel reformers, thereby allowing a wider variety of fuel quality. HT PEM FCs are ideal for commercial use such as a way to power vehicles as range extenders for batteries.

 

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)

Operating temperature: 60-130 degrees Celsius

Electrical Efficiency: Up to 40 %

DMFC are similar to PEM FCs. Most FCs are powered by hydrogen, which can be fed to the FC system directly or can be generated within the FC system by reforming hydrogen-rich fuels such as methanol, ethanol, and hydrocarbon fuels. DMFCs are powered by pure methanol, which are usually mixed with water and fed to the FC anode.

Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC)

Operating Temperature: Around 23-70 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 60-70 %

Alkaline FCs were one of the first FCs developed and was used on space missions in the 1960s to provide both drinking water and electricity.  AFC are easily poisoned by small quantities of CO2, and is therefore primarily employed in controlled aerospace and underwater environments.

 

Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cell (PAFC)

Operating Temperature: Around 150-200 degrees Cesius
Electrical Efficiency:
 36-42 %

PAFCs can operate using reformed hydrocarbon fuels or biogas. It is considered the “first generation” of modern FCs and the first type to be used commercially. The type is usually used for stationary power generation, but can also be used for large vehicles.

 

Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell (MCFC)

Operating Temperature: Around 650 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 50-60 %

At the high temperatures at which MCFCs operate, methane and other light hydrocarbons in these fuels are converted to hydrogen within the FC itself by the process, internal reforming, which also reduce costs.

The primary disadvantage of MCFCs is durability, which is caused by the system’s high temperature. MCFCs are ideal for large stationary power and CHP applications, and are available as commercial products.

 

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC)

Operating Temperature: Around 1,000 degrees Celcius
Electrical Efficiency: 50-60 %

The high temperature operation allows the SOFC to reform fuel internally. However, the significantly high temperature results in a slow startup and requires significantly thermal shielding to retain heat and protect personnel, which may be acceptable for utility applications but not for transportation. SOFCs are suitable for large stationary applications.

Where are fuel cells applied?

During the years, fuel cells have been applied in various applications. In the 1960s, fuel cells were used for space travel, and since the 1990s, fuel cells have been developed for commercial and industrial locations. Today, fuel cells are being sold commercially as APU and for stationary back up power and we are also experiencing some of the first commercial fuel cell cars on the streets.

Fuel cells are used all over the globe as stationary power and in mobility. Stationary FC power is used within commercial, industrial and residential, and as back-up power generation. The fuel cell systems are ideal for remote locations and in telecommunication, as it has a high degree of reliability and a high efficiency. Fuel cells can also be used as range extenders for electric vehicles, such as cars, auxiliaries and larger vehicles, such as buses and trucks. Distributed power generation can also benefit from the use of fuel cells – e.g. on boats or power generations for smaller hubs oppose to centralised power generation.

Are fuel cells a renewable energy?

Fuel cells can be considered renewable – if a renewable energy source is being applied as fuel. When being fuelled by green methanol, fuel cells must be regarded as renewable energy as it is CO2 neutral. The energy sources thus needs to be renewable, such as wind, hydroelectricity and solar power.

Is methanol safe?

We put a lot of effort into manufacturing quality fuel cell solutions with high safety. However, as other fuels, methanol is flammable and has the potential to react violently with oxygen. This is also true with gasoline, diesel and natural gas, and this has not prevented the use of these fuels. The key is to have the correct safety features and infrastructure to allow non-hazardous substances.

Methanol is, however safer than gasoline and diesel, as it is harder to ignite, it burns more slowly, it emits no black smoke and emits lower radiant energy, which makes surrounding materials less likely to catch fire. Furthermore, Serenergy’s Methanol Fuel Cell Power Solutions are fuelled by a methanol mix, 60 % methanol and 40 % water, which means that it is less flammable than pure methanol.

Additionally, Serenergy comply with all international safety standards. Serenergy does everything to make sure that our costumers aware of the right way to use methanol.

Can Serenergy’s Methanol Fuel Cell Power Systems be used in my home?

Currently, we do not offer fuel cells for residential consumer use. Our systems are merely available for industrial, governmental and business use.

How do I purchase Serenergy’s Methanol Fuel Cell products?

For more information about purchasing a Serenergy Methanol Fuel Cell Power System, please contact us by email, sales@serenergy.com or by telephone, +45 8880 7040.