06-12-2018 | | By Nnamdi Anyadike
The use of mobile fuel cells to bring power to off-grid areas and applications is expanding. This is on the back of a rise in demand for unconventional energy sources and space heating across residential and commercial establishments and a rise in demand for backup power as well as an increase in demand for portable devices. Recent research shows a CAGR of 18.9% in the global fuel cell market to $16,672.63 million by 2026, from $3,512.25 million in 2017.
A number of companies have begun to innovate and introduce new products on to the market. In November, the Israeli firm GenCell announced a new hydrogen-fuelled A5 fuel cell solution, which it says could compete on price for the first time with diesel gensets. The unit is designed to provide 24/7 power for off-grid and poor-grid sites and will initially be aimed at the telecom tower market. The company claims a typical telecom provider could save up to $250 million across 1000 towers over ten years, compared to the cost of diesel generators.
GenCell says it has managed to reduce its system costs down to $0.50/kWh by using ammonia to generate hydrogen. The key advantage of using ammonia is that it is the second most produced inorganic chemical. And one 12-tonne tank of the chemical provides its system with enough fuel for a year of 24/7 operation. Rami Reshef, GenCell’s CEO said, “We’ve developed a process that allows us to extract hydrogen from ammonia with ten times the efficiency of other solutions. Our process allows extraction without any connectivity to the grid.”
Also in November, EPH-elektronik GmbH the Besigheim, Germany based developer of electronic drive technology solutions and EMS service provider, announced the launch of the world's first mobile fuel cell with TÜV SÜD certification. Its 380W GEOS Donor C380 fuel cell is designed to bring power to off-grid areas and applications. Targeted applications range from traffic engineering and site monitoring to caravaning and boating. The hydrogen fuel cell can extend the hours of use of battery-powered consumer products from a few hours to several days. It is touted as being an environmentally safer alternative to methanol fuel cells.
In other developments, Enocell Ltd the Aberdeen, Scotland provider of fuel cells, has unveiled a new range of fuel cell modules. These are designed to fully integrate into a wide range of application specific products with power outputs ranging from 2.5W to 1,000W. The company states, “Enocell fuel cells significantly outperform state of the art fuel cell catalysts. They are highly adaptable, easy to use and scalable. And their overall efficiency is 4 times greater than solar power and 3 times greater than wind power. They use fewer natural resources to meet consumers’ energy needs with cost savings of up to 50%. They also have superior price performance offering longer battery life.”
An added benefit is that the hydrogen fuel cells may be linked together if there is a need to handle larger power requirements. The three primary power markets that Enocell is targeting include: the stationary, transport and portable power sectors. But the initial focus will be the stationary and portable markets in the 2.5W to 250W range, where the company expects annual worldwide growth, “to be 16 to 20% over the next 3 years.”
Meanwhile, technology providers are joining forces to create greater synergies in the fuel cell marketplace. At the end of November, SFC Energy AG a leading provider of hybrid power solutions to the stationary and mobile power generation markets signed a hydrogen technology development and licensing partnership with AdKor GmbH, of Wildau, Germany. Both companies will market the existing ‘Jupiter’ series fuel cells and together develop a new, powerful hydrogen fuel cell generation with energy management for power-intensive industrial off-grid and back-up applications.
Peter Podesser, CEO of SFC Energy said, " Together with Adkor we will first target critical infrastructure, telecommunication, and back up scenarios. For this we can build on a proven technology. In the long run we see additional potential for the new product generation in e-mobility and smart grids. Adkor with their decades of expertise and experience as an integrator and general contractor for public customers is an ideal partner for fast commercialization and customer-centric further and new development in attractive markets." SFC Energy expects the development time for the new generation of hydrogen fuel cells to be shortened to two years. There is also the potential for an approximately 50 percent lower development cost, compared to other new developments.
Although the high price of the catalysts and the lack of a fuel cell infrastructure are acting as constraints on current market growth, demand is certain to increase in the coming years. As Morry Markowitz, President of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association argues, “Fuel cells are emerging as the ‘go-to’ technology solution for a wide range of market sectors. Powered by a fuel that can be produced from both conventional and renewable feedstocks and a proven record of environmental and economic benefits, the potential of fuel cells is limitless. Fuel cells are here today and already making a huge impact helping transition the world to a better tomorrow.”