Fuel cells convert natural gas directly into electrical energy and are much more efficient than combustion engines. In a fuel cell stack, several cells, each the size of a CD, are connected one to the other. But as the systems are too complex, there hadn’t been a market breakthrough.
Matthias Jahn, Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS, Dresden, Germany, and colleagues together with the German heater manufacturer Vaillant, have developed a simple fuel cell system that generates electricity and heat in private households from natural gas. The miniature power station is based on a solid fuel cell (SOFC). A reformer initially converts the natural gas into a hydrogen-rich gas, this then reacts in the stack with the oxygen of the air in a noiseless „cold combustion“, producing power and heat.
The system is as compact as classical gas heaters, can comfortably be mounted on the wall, and is easily maintained. With an output of 1 kW, it covers the average current consumption for a four-person household.
The devices are currently being tested in the Callux practice test, which is promoted by the Federal Ministry of Transport and digital infrastructure BMVI. Additionally, in the European demonstration project ene.field, about 150 units are being installed in several European countries.
The two partners are working on decreasing production costs and increasing the lifetime of the equipment.
- Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Munich, Germany