H2 for future energy
H2 and energy sector have a long shared history, beginning in powering the first internal combustion engines over 200 years ago to becoming an integral part of the modern refining industry. H2 fuel has very high power density and no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases are formed by its utilisation. Therefore, hydrogen can help to achieve a clean, secure and affordable energy future.
Supplying H2 to industrial users is now the part of major business around the world. Demand for H2, which has grown more than threefold since 1975, continues to rise. Nowadays, it almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels, with 6 % of global natural gas and 2 % of global coal going to H2 production. However, there are more sustainable, ecological alternatives, namely, the water electrolysis. During this process, water splitting to H2 and O2 takes place, consuming electric current.
Water electrolysis is a very flexible process that can be included in the wider scheme of energy economy, powered by H2. Such H2-based energy strategy is based on renewable energy sources that supply electricity to the grid. To balance these sources, H2 production by water electrolysis is utilised. Produced H2 can be transported for further use as a fuel, valuable raw material, or transformed back to electricity using H2 operating fuel cells. As in the case of water electrolysers, fuel cell are sustainable, highly current-efficient and modular, enabling both the stationary applications as secondary power sources and the mobile ones, in cars, trains and ships. In summary, we start with water and electric energy and, after using the power, end up again with water. All due to the H2 energy vector.
PEM FUEL CELLs
There are numerous possibilities how to utilise the energetically rich H2. Simple combustion, as in the case of fossil fuels, is inefficient and makes high demands on construction materials. A more viable approach is to use H2 fuel, together with O2 oxidant from air, in the fuel cell. Fuel cell is an electrochemical device, consisting of two electrodes with Pt-based catalyst and polymer proton-conductive membrane. On the positive electrode, the anode, H2 is oxidised and formed protons pass through the membrane to the negative electrode, cathode. Electrons formed by H2 oxidation are conducted to the cathode via external circuit. There, O2 is reduced to water. Since the chemical energy is converted directly to the electric one, fuel cells have a high current efficiency, absence of noise and vibrations, no exhaust gasses except water vapour and finally yet importantly, compact size and low weight.
One of the principal advantages of fuel cells is their modular design, with suitability ranging from small mobile to large stationary applications. In combination with H2 storage system and electromotor, fuel cells represent an ideal propellant for mobility sector. This is especially true in the automotive industry, where first H2-powered vehicles are commercially available.
Bipolar plates (BPPs) are used in both water electrolysis and fuel cells to collect and conduct current and heat in between single cells, separate gases and transport gases and fluids. BPPs represent up to 80 % of the weight and about 30 % of the cost of the entire stack assembly and are key components in reducing the cost and increasing the lifetime of electrolysers and fuel cells. The stability of BPPs in the low pH environment formed inside an operational fuel cell or electrolyser is a major concern. Noble metals with high corrosive resistance would be the preferred choice, but the high cost hinders their use. Stainless steel (SS) is a relatively low-cost material that can be a suitable option for BPP mass production, but corrosion issues must be prevented to ensure proper operation of the electrochemical devices. The application of protective layers on the plate surface is a simple but effective approach to limit the problem.
In order to meet the market requirements (in terms of cost and corrosion resistance), the CORE project will investigate for the first time the use of an innovative filler manipulation technique.
Working together for a green, competitive and inclusive Europe
The CORE project is funded in KAPPA funding programme for applied research, experimental development and innovation operated by Technology Agency of the Czech Republic.
The Programme is generally aimed at supporting international cooperation between the Czech entities and the partners from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in an applied research, as well as at supporting the interconnection of research organisations with the consumers of the outputs of applied research, experimental development and innovation, i.e. with the industrial sphere (mainly with enterprises and other entities at the national and international level) operating in various social fields. The implementation of the Programme mainly assumes the application of industrial research projects (also involving the necessary activities in oriented basic research), as well as support for projects with a predominance of experimental development.
The CORE benefits from a € 1,2 mil. grant from Norway and Technology Agency of the Czech Republic. The aim of the project is to develop ground-breaking coatings for cost-effective and high- performance bipolar plates for fuel cells and electrolysers.