Ceramic fuel cells could be the future of green, at-home power and heat …
Much of the cost of a fuel cell comes in the choice of anode material. Platinum is used in many fuel cells, but the Fraunhofer Institute researchers used a ceramic material as the anode in this solid oxide (i.e. ceramic) fuel cell (SOFC). A solid fuel cell is less expensive and easier to produce than the proton exchange membrane fuel (PEMFC) cells being explored for use in automobiles. The trade-off, however, is that SOFCs produce a huge amount more heat — up to 850 degrees Celsius, which is ten times what is produced by PEMFC. Luckily, ceramics can take the heat.
To cope with the heat issue, the team is basically saying, “Hey, this fuel cell is your furnace now too.” Conveniently, the final product is about the size of a traditional furnace, but it pumps out both heat and power. The fuel cell itself is the about the size of a stack of CDs. At times when heat is needed, the fuel cell can provide enough of it to keep a home toasty, but when the weather is more pleasant, that excess heat has to be exhausted someplace (preferably outside). The energy output is more in-line with expectations, though. When running at peak efficiency, the prototype SOFC developed by Fraunhofer can produce one kilowatt. That’s enough to meet the need of an average four-person household. [Read: Fusion power at home, or, how small science will defeat big science.]
The Fraunhofer Institute has worked with heater manufacturer Vaillant to create a test version of this stacked fuel cell that can be safely mounted to a wall. A number of these units have been installed into private homes to evaluate performance in real life with 150 total consumer tests planned for this year.
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