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News >>> BioLPG Accelerates Global Decarbonisation Paving the Way for Hydrogen

Hydrogen fuel cells are key to a low-carbon energy future, but face challenges in production, infrastructure, and costs. Adelan’s microtubular SOFCs provide an immediate solution by using readily available fuels like propane and biomethane, supporting the hydrogen economy transition.

Published January 2024

Hydrogen and fuel cells are set to play a key role in the global energy transition to a clean, low-carbon energy system, but scaling up the availability of hydrogen will take time. Certainly, fuel cell technology offers considerable scope as a low carbon and efficient power source for electric vehicles, domestic heat and power and a host of other applications that are required for our clean energy future. Fuelled with hydrogen, fuel cells combine atmospheric oxygen to produce energy while its exhaust produces nothing but pure water. Given that hydrogen is an abundant element that can act as an effective carbon-free energy carrier, this solution is clearly attractive. However, there are a number of challenges that must be overcome for the hydrogen fuel cell solution to achieve its clean energy potential and common fuels like LPG and BioLPG (bio-propane) offer immediate opportunities to decarbonise.

One of the key obstacles for widespread hydrogen fuel cell uptake is source the hydrogen fuel that would be used in a fuel cell vehicle or other application. While it is true the hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water using renewable energy-derived electricity is carbon free, the vast bulk of all hydrogen produced today comes from the steam reformation of natural gas. Global hydrogen demand stands at around 8–10 exajoules (EJ) annually, about 50Mte/a, but according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), roughly 95% of all hydrogen produced worldwide is so-called ‘grey’ or ‘blue’ hydrogen. This is typically derived from natural gas and therefore still has a significant carbon footprint.

In addition, the infrastructure required for the widespread distribution of hydrogen still needs to be developed. Recent figures from US Department of Energy reveal there are currently 49 public hydrogen fuelling station locations across the US and Canada, the vast majority of which are centred on the west coast in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Indeed, while last year the California Energy Commission approved a program to expand distribution infrastructure with up to $115 million in grant funding to boost fuel cell electric vehicle use, this will add just over 100 new stations where hydrogen is available by 2027. By way of comparison, there are already nearly 1,600 public fuelling stations where propane or LPG is available and they are spread throughout the US and Canada.

Beyond infrastructure, availability and its carbon contribution, perhaps the greatest barrier to the uptake of hydrogen fuel cells is the fuel cost. California Fuel Cell Partnership figures from 2019 show the average price of hydrogen for a light-duty fuel cell electric vehicle in California is $16.51/kg or roughly $57 a gallon. The price of hydrogen will inevitably come down but for now the National Average Retail Fuel Prices Conventional and Alternative Fuels report from October 2020 records propane at $2.73 a gallon and conventional gasoline at $2.18.

Given that some technologies such as Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC) produce considerable temperatures as part of the electrochemical process, it is possible to include a reformer with a fuel cell to produce hydrogen at source. This allows fuel cells to use commonly available fuels such as propane or methane (natural gas) by chemically stripping out the hydrogen. However, while this solution is technically feasible it does add significant costs and additional complexity, potentially creating new barriers to fuel cell electric vehicle uptake for instance. Now a commercially attractive approach has emerged with a novel fuel cell architecture that makes it possible to use gaseous fuels like propane without the need for a reformer.

Developed some 30 years ago by UK fuel cell pioneers and the country’s oldest fuel cell company Adelan Ltd, the microtubular SOFC uses an ingenious internal structure to enable the use of forecourt fuels directly.

Scalable from small portable units suitable for UAVs and right up to grid-connected power stations, mSOFCs offer a dependable and reliable source of electricity in even the most remote locations so long as an appropriate fuel can be sourced. Furthermore, the ability of this technology to use available fuels like biomethane, biopropane or biomethanol offers considerable scope for an immediate and widespread fuel cell uptake. This is a clear benefit when it comes to developing a market for fuel cell electric vehicles and suggests that the volumes needed to produce such vehicles at a competitive cost are achievable.

“Fuel cells that are able to use widely available conventional fuels like propane or LPG provide a major gateway for the uptake of clean energy technologies while the availability and price point of green hydrogen produced from renewable energy catches up to become an economically viable carbon-free alternative,” explains Dr Michaela Kendall, Adelan’s chief executive officer.

mSOFCs are hydrogen ready but using infrastructure fuels in fuel cells means they can effectively bypass many of the key obstacles to uptake and instead become one of the key technological stepping stones to the clean hydrogen economy of the future.

 

https://propane.com/environment/stories/propane-is-key-to-accelerating-clean-energy-fuel-cell-technology/

To discover more about how Adelan can support your future energy ambitions or to meet your requirements for clean, quiet and reliable energy for remote, mobile or any other applications, please contact Dr Kendall and the rest of the Adelan team at info@adelan.co.uk.

Alternatively, visit us at: www.adelan.co.uk

About Adelan

First founded in The Midlands, Birmingham-based Adelan pioneered microtubular solid oxide fuel cell (mSOFC) technology more than 30 years’ ago. Adelan’s patented and scalable technology gives the fuel cell unprecedented flexibility, allowing the system to run on a range of commonly available fuels such as LPG, natural gas or propane/butane mix. As a result, though Adelan fuel cells can also run on hydrogen, they offer considerable additional operational flexibility and ease of use benefits whilst retaining a small, compact and lightweight footprint. Adelan staff founded and built up the University of Birmingham Fuel Cells Centre, and now aim to commercialise UK fuel cell technology through the Fuel Cell Incubator, with a first event in October 2019.

Contact Media at Adelan

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