Fuel Cells

FcLab’s Research activity on fuel cell is mainly based on the experimental activity performed on the laboratory test rigs. Main focus are high temperature fuel cells, namely Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC) and Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells (MCFC). For both technologies, single cell and short stack are tested in the lab.

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Research mainly regards performance analysis of the cells in real operation. The effect of gas composition, operative temperature and current density on power output and long term degradation are deeply investigated. In particular, FcLab expertise concerns innovative fuel such as syngas, biogas, liquid fuels and ammonia in all operative conditions. Test regarding degradation due to carbon deposition, anode reoxidation, contaminant adsorbtion are mainly performed on single cells were post mortem analysis can be performed. Tests on short stack allows to achieve higher performances closer to real operative conditions and permit to perform thermal studies on equilibrium and transient.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells – SOFCs

 

 

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Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells – MCFCs

 
Molten carbonate fuel cells are fuel cells operating at high temperature (650°C typically) and they also need a continuous stream of carbon dioxide to the cathode to produce electric power. The efficiency of MCFCs reaches up to 60% (commercial systems operated with natural gas as fuel) and the overall plant efficiency can reach up to 80% due to the possibility of heat recovery and reuse. Those characteristics have raised the interest for this kind of devices and their possible applications, ranging from power production as standalone systems, repowering a traditional power plant with added carbon capture and storage features (CCS) or their use in reverse mode as molten carbonate electrolyzers.Even though this technology is already available on the market in MW sized plants, in order to get a long stack life and limited performance loss over time many parameters need to be studied and fine-tuned.
Research activity and projects:
– Sulfur poisoning of MCFC operating in CCS configuration
– Performance of natural gas and biogas fed MCFC systems in CCS configuration
– Kinetic modelling of MFCF: effects of cathode water and electrode materials
– Off-design operation of a coal plant: repowering and CO2 reduction with a natural gas fed MCFC

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Concerning biologic applications:

Microbial and Enzymatic Fuel Cells – MFCs & EFCs

 

Biological fuel cells are systems capable of direct chemical-to-electrical energy conversion via biochemical pathways. Enzymatic fuel cells (EFCs) use specific isolated enzymes for their operation, while microbial fuel cells (MFCs) exploit the metabolism of whole organisms containing complete enzyme pathways. Enzymes or microorganisms are able to transfer electrons from the organic matter (wastewater, sewage sludge, livestock manure, etc.) to fuel cell electrodes, realizing a carbon neutral cycle more sustainable with respect to conventional fuel cells, combining waste treatment and energy production.

The Fuel Cell Lab is studying the most suitable reactor configurations depending on the bio-chemical characteristics of the feedstock and on the reaction environment, evaluating also the factors that could impact fuel cell performance. The techniques for enzyme/mediator immobilization on the electrodes are also investigated, representing a crucial aspect for bio-fuel cell development.

Picture credits: Microbial fuel cell (Environmental Science & Technology, vol.40, n.17, p.5181, 2006), Enzymatic fuel cell (Sustainable Energy Fuels, vol.1, p.1475, 2017)

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