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, thereby positively impacting return on investment and ability to finance units.
For over 25 years, Lee Enterprises Consulting has been assisting companies and investors with bioenergy, biofuels, biomaterials and chemicals, biotechnologies, and feedstock matters. With over 150 consultants, we have the diverse expertise and geographical reach to assist in virtually any bioeconomy project worldwide. These seasoned professionals average over 30 years of industry experience. Our ability to assemble these professionals into multidisciplinary teams allows us to fully integrate the technical, scientific, and regulatory aspects of a project, and combine them with years of hands-on experience. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide. You will note that most of our experts are also available for ancillary engagements and advice, for specialty engagements like serving as expert witnesses in litigation matters. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information.