Hydrogen fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert the chemical energy of hydrogen into electrical energy. Fuel cells are similar to batteries in operation and constituent parts. The key difference is that while batteries store energy, hydrogen fuel cell technology produces electricity continuously and efficiently as long as hydrogen and an oxidant are supplied. Hydrogen enables the deployment of renewables by converting and storing otherwise curtailed electricity and can be used as a buffer or strategic reserve for power.
Bürkert supports hydrogen fuel cell advancements
Bürkert is fully committed to contributing towards global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. As a technology leader, our expertise and experience in developing peripheral components and complete systems is being applied to several carbon-reducing technologies. In 2018, we made huge strides forward in supporting the development of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems designed to reduce NOx emissions.
This year, as a continuation of those efforts, we are supporting manufacturers in the emerging field of hydrogen fuel cell production to develop viable decarbonising energy sources that can eventually be brought to market at a scalable rate.
The wheels are already in motion for the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology in the automobile sector, a trend that Field Segment Manager for .gas and .micro at Bürkert, Tony Brennan, hopes to see replicated across the wider energy industry. “Already we have seen a shift in the automobile manufacturing sector away from fossil fuels and towards electricity instead,” says Tony.
“It will probably be quite a short step between diesel and petrol cars being phased out and electric cars – and eventually hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles – coming in.”
Hydrogen fuel cell efficiency offers numerous advantages
One of the biggest hurdles for hydrogen fuel cell technology is the economy of scales required to bring it into production, as it is initially relatively expensive. Given the many benefits, demand may not be an issue. According to the Hydrogen Council – a coalition of leading energy, transport and industry companies – the hydrogen economy is expected to reach 18% of the world’s energy demands by 2050, supporting the avoidance of six gigatons of CO2 emissions and generating revenues of up to $2.5 trillion. All of which presents a huge opportunity, both for the energy sector and the environment.
Hydrogen fuel cells are not a new technology and have previously been used to power lunar modules and vehicles. Now they are set to emerge into more mainstream applications, thanks to the efficiencies they offer. Tony continues: “hydrogen fuel cells have some unique characteristics that make them very user-friendly for the people operating them. For example, they don’t create any noise, the emissions are basically just pure water, and they don’t need very much servicing or maintenance.
“The hurdle at the moment is that the market needs to adopt fuel cells, so that the volumes can increase exponentially to make them commercially more attractive,” he adds.
Bürkert products and expertise for precision hydrogen control
One of Bürkert’s main areas of expertise that can benefit the field of hydrogen fuel cell production is in precision hydrogen control. Hydrogen can be controlled via mass flow controllers, which are ideal for use in a closed loop circuits and are highly accurate. As the load on the fuel cell increases the hydrogen supply also needs to increase. Bürkert can help to control this process and balance the required load against the fuel supply.
As a searching gas, any hydrogen application requires comprehensive leak tightness, which is exactly the type of consideration that Bürkert’s Systemhaus engineers factor into their designs. “You don’t want any leaks because hydrogen is potentially explosive,” says Tony. To avoid potential leak paths we would recommend manifold systems. Here sensors, valves, mass flow controllers/meters are mounted on a manifold with internal galleries, thus reducing the number of connectors required in the system and the potential for leak paths. As hydrogen is very light it will generally find its way out of an enclosure easily if it is designed correctly.”
Supporting the next phase of hydrogen fuel cell technology
As a technology leader, Bürkert is aiming to support partners involved in the fields of power generation, backup power plants and uninterrupted power supplies. Our Systemhaus engineers are adept at designing complete systems comprising of numerous standard components, as part of bespoke assemblies built to suit the requirements of individual applications. Our value-added systems can be designed to reduce space or to make servicing easier. All of which comes courtesy of more than 70 years of market leading innovation.
“Initially what we may find is that hydrogen fuel cells might be introduced as a peak load ‘gap filler’ instead of diesel generators,” Tony concludes. “There are decentralised fields with these power generators that all feed back into the National Grid. These kick in when the load is too high for the existing centralised plant to support. It might be the case that hydrogen fuel cells will eventually replace these diesel generators as the legislation for emissions gets tighter.”
“There is a trend away from large centralised power plants to distributed systems close to the point of use. This is more efficient as you get less transmission and distribution losses compared to conventional central power generation systems. This trend along with the need for reducing exhaust emissions is creating an environment which encourages the development of hydrogen fuel cell systems.”
For more information about Bürkert’s hydrogen fuel cell expertise and Systemhaus solutions, please contact our team today on +44 (0) 1285 648 720 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.