In PEMBeyond project a cost-competitive, energy-efficient and durable integrated PEMFC based power system operating on low-grade (crude) bioethanol will be developed for back-up and off-grid power generation.

 Back-up and off-grid power is one of the strongest early markets for fuel cell technology today. Wireless communication systems are rapidly expanding globally, and the need for reliable, cost-competitive and environmentally sustainable back-up and off-grid power is growing, especially in developing countries.

 Fuel cell technology has already proven to be superior to conventional technologies - diesel generators or batteries - in these applications in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO). However, the growth of the fuel cell industry in this sector has been modest at least partially due to high initial investment cost and fuel logistics problems. Cost-competitive PEMFC power system compatible with crude bioethanol would allow direct use of easily transported and stored, locally produced sustainable and low-emission fuel also in developing countries, further adding value and increasing the number of potential applications and end-users for fuel cell and hydrogen technology.

The PEMBeyond system will basically consist of the following functions integrated as a one complete system:

  •  Reforming of crude bioethanol,
  • H2 purification,
  • Power generation in PEMFC system.

 Optimized overall system design combined to use of improved system components and control strategies will lead to improvements in cost, efficiency and durability throughout the complete system. Latest automotive reformate compatible PEMFC stacks will be used, possessing high potential to reducing stack manufacturing costs. On top of this, the stacks as a part of a low-grade H2 compatible fuel cell system design will allow both FC system simplifications (e.g. no cathode humidifier needed) and complete system simplifications (e.g. higher CO ppm and lower H2% allowed) leading to decreased cost. Optimizing the target H2 quality used will be a key task with the regard to overall system cost, efficiency and durability.

 An extensive techno-economic analysis will be carried out throughout the project to ensure attractiveness of the concept. A roadmap to volume production will be one of the main deliverables of the project.

 Project was started on May 1st 2014, and will last for three years. Total budget is 4.6 Million Euros. The research consortium coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland consists of five European collaborators all from different countries.

Overview of project progress and results

• First generation of the fuel cell stack BoS (blance-of-stack) was completed and tested. Corrective actions following testing were taken into the next generation that has been completed and validated, including leaching, shock, vibration and 1,500 h degradation test. Freeze start-up testing of the stack was completed, and start-up of a 10-cell stack was achieved from -25 °C with no stack heating, insulation, or protection from wind chill. The stack CO tolerance was verified at VTT to be 5 ppm, which was later improved to 20 ppm by introduction of new MEAs. 13 stacks in different sizes totalling to 67 kW of nominal power have been delivered to project partners Genport and VTT so far. (PCS, VTT)

• Fuel cell system (FCS) simulation tool was developed and used for dimensioning of the systems. Design, assembly and testing of three 7 kW systems was completed, with one FCS delivered to VTT for the REFCS integration. A fourth FCS was developed by VTT, where the custom-built ejector and its discrete control solution were demonstrated as part of a 4 kW FCS. (Genport, VTT)

• The modified steam reforming catalyst (IMM 1474e) has been continuously tested over 1,087 hours with crude bioethanol ETAX-B regarding activity and long term stability, with complete conversion of ethanol and stable reformate composition throughout the while test. A complete fuel processor has been tested successfully in start-up and steady state operation and was delivered to VTT for integration into the REFCS system. A highly performing and stable Cu45ZnGa LT-WGS catalyst has been developed at UPorto, which is significantly more efficient than the benchmark Hi-Fuel W-220, particularly below 200°C.

• A PSA prototype unit for the REFCS was acquired under a under the collaboration protocol between UPorto and HyGear, and shipped to VTT. During the initial testing, performed by UPorto and VTT, it was concluded that the unit could not meet the targeted 20 ppm CO concentration. A vacuum pump was installed for operation in vacuum pressure swing adsorption (VPSA) mode and the targets were met. UPorto also developed and characterized an activated carbon adsorbent to improve the performance of the lab-scale PSA unit, that produces streams with < 0.2 ppm of CO with a recovery > 75 %, enough to reach the automotive fuel targets (ISO 14687-2). (UPorto)

• The subsystems delivered to VTT were characterized against the set initial specifications. The REFCS design and operation strategies were developed together with the consortium, and the subsystems were successfully integrated together. The field trial could not be fully realized due to premature failure of the fuel processor. However, the concept was proven to work by generating electricity from the hydrogen produced from ethanol. (VTT, IMM, UPorto, Genport)

• A market research has been conducted for the global fuel cell telecom backup market. A tool for techno-economic was developed and this has been used to identify the potential market penetration and a roadmap for volume production of the system has been developed. Furthermore a life-cycle assessment has been done, comparing the REFCS against diesel generator. (Genport, VTT)

• The project results have been presented in 7 international scientific conferences and 4 peer-reviewed papers have been published so far. An Industrial Advisor Group (IAG) has been formed and four workshops have been held for bi-directional information exchange with the relevant stakeholders. (VTT, Genport)

Expected final results and their potential impacts

The main result of the project has been the development and demonstration of a crude bioethanol fuelled power system, and the concept has been developed from TRL3 to TRL6. However, harvesting the full commercial potential would definitely need further verification of the system durability, followed by re-engineering based on operational experience.

Other key results is that PCS has been able to get the S2 stack into production, enabling sales of the stacks, and also other systems where the S2 platform acts as the centrepiece. Genport has also been able to extend their product portfolio to 7 kW range (G7000 HPS) and to demonstrate their GENIOL Li-ion battery pack.

As a highlight of the low TRL activities, UPorto is preparing to start a spin-off company to produce the improved adsorbent and PSA units. If successful, this concept can significantly reduce the cost of producing automotive grade hydrogen. The non-noble metal based LT-WGS catalyst also surpassed any commercial products.

The ejector fuel supply expertise developed at VTT has lead to work carried out in other commercial and jointly funded projects, and IMM has been able to develop and demonstrate high differential pressure and temperature capable microchannel reactor designs.

All project partners have benefited from the publicity through conferences and workshops, which have sparked a lot of interest towards the activities. Moreover, the publication of scientific articles have aided in the completion of doctoral studies.

Furthermore, through the information exchange and the workshops organized, the consortium has been able to promote different fuel cell based solutions to the industry, gaining wider acceptance for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in general, and paving the way for technologies with reduced particulate and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.



Link to PEMBeyond Project