Fuel cells are solid state (no moving part) devices that efficiently convert fuel, typically hydrogen (H2) into electricity with the use of an oxidizing agent (often oxygen). Fuel cells are different from most batteries in requiring a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from air) to sustain the chemical reaction, whereas in a battery the chemical energy usually comes from metals and their ions or oxides that are commonly already present in the battery, except in flow batteries. Fuel cells can produce electricity continuously for as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied.
There are many types of fuel cells, including proton exchange membrane (PEM), solid oxide (SOFC), and molten carbonate (MCFC). The fuel for fuel cells is a reducing gas that in the process gets oxidized, releasing electrons and thus creating an electrical current. Some technologies, like PEM, can only operate on pure hydrogen (H2) while others (SOFC and MCFC) use synthesis gas (syngas, CO + H2). This second group is more relevant for bio-based processes because syngas can be derived from biomass via well-understood pathways, including gasification or pyrolysis.
Many see fuel cells as a key piece of our energy future for both stationary and mobile applications. However, due to several challenges over the past couple of decades, the fuel cell revolution has always been beyond the horizon – infamously five years out. Despite fuel cells’ failure to revolutionize energy production, they have found some valuable niches, including some in the bio-economy, typically in situations where both power and heat are needed. Research and development on a range of fuel cell technologies are ongoing and improvements are making their way into commercially available units. These advancements are lowering initial cost and increasing reliability, and thereby positively impacting return on investment and ability to finance units.
Bioeconomy consulting groups with expertise in fuel cells will also likely have expertise in feedstock analysis and in feedstocks like agricultural waste, algae, biogas, co2, construction waste, cooking oils, energy crops, fermentation waste, forest products, glycerin, hemp, lignin, municipal solid waste (MSW), palm waste, railroad ties, sludge, solid recovered fuels, and wood waste. Lee Enterprises Consulting is the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with over 150 highly qualified experts, including several fermentation experts. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide and you will see that we have just the right expert for any clean energy project. Most of our experts are also available to advise and serve as expert witnesses in bioeconomy litigation matters. For the larger projects, we specialize in putting together full-service, interdisciplinary teams with one point of contact. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information.