Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Propane fuel cell passes muster at Exit Glacier Nature Center

13.11.2006
The Alaska Energy Technology Development Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently announced a successful field test of a prototype propane fuel cell.

The cell, manufactured by Massachusetts-based Acumentrics and installed at the Kenai Fjords National Park’s Exit Glacier Nature Center near Seward, ran for more than 1,100 hours straight and did so with no measurable degradation in its efficiency.

“From a technical point of view, it is an important milestone we have achieved here,” said Dennis Witmer, director of AETDL. “It is one step closer to these kinds of fuel cells becoming devices that can be useful in remote locations.”

The fuel cell was part of the original design for the nature center. It was first installed and used in the summer of 2004. Since then, a team of researchers and technicians has been fine-tuning the cell’s performance. In August, Park Service officials fired it up again and it ran until the end of the season.

“It’s not going back to the factory this winter. It has been mothballed for the winter and we plan on starting it up (next) summer,” said Tim Hudson, associate regional director for operations and resources for the National Park Service’s Alaska region. “We like the promise of this technology as a way to replace diesel generators, decrease the possibility of fuel spills and provide a cleaner and quieter source of power.”

The Exit Glacier fuel cell is notable for several reasons. It uses a fuel source--propane--that is more portable and usable in remote areas than the hydrogen or natural gas that usually powers fuel cells. It was also able to adjust its output to deal with fluctuations in power demand at the center, a phenomenon known as load following. And its most recent test run happened in real-world conditions, rather than in a laboratory with controlled power demands and constant monitoring and adjustment by technicians.

In addition, Witmer said, the Exit Glacier cell is able to efficiently generate relatively small amounts of power. A typical diesel generator is most efficient when it is generating 100 kilowatts of electricity, which is about 100 times more than a small building or cell phone tower would use.

“At one kilowatt, there is no convenient, efficient technology … and that is where fuel cells really have a hope of finding some market,” he said.

The reason for the efficiency is the way fuel cells generate electricity. Like a diesel generator, they use a hydrocarbon fuel source. But while the electricity in a traditional generator results from fuel burning and driving a mechanical generation device, the energy in a fuel cell comes from an electrochemical reaction.

“A fuel cell is a device that converts the energy from fuel directly into DC electricity,” Witmer said. “The idea is that the efficiencies are better with the direct electrochemical conversion, especially at lower power levels.”

In addition to generating electricity, the fuel cell provided heat to the nature center during its test run from mid-August to late September.

Witmer said that propane fuel cells are still a long way from being practical for the average consumer. However the successful test at Exit Glacier shows that the technology is meeting technical milestones. If the cells are eventually available to the public, it’s hard to predict all of their potential applications, he said, noting the number of devices that have come about as the internal combustion engine became smaller and more economical.

“Because we don’t have anything really good smaller than a diesel generator, we really don’t know what the demand would be for a one-kilowatt generator,” Witmer said. “That to me is the really exciting thing.”

The Exit Glacier Nature Center fuel cell test is the result of a cooperative agreement between the National Park Service and the Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Other funding partners include the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, fuel cell manufacturer Acumentrics, the Propane Education and Research Council, fuel cell contractor Energy Alternatives, the Denali Commission and the Alaska Energy Authority.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Dennis Witmer will be available at the 2006 Fuel Cell Seminar in Honolulu, Hawaii Nov. 13-17.

CONTACT: Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at (907) 474-7902 or via e-mail at marmian.grimes@uaf.edu. Dennis Witmer, Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory director, at (907) 590-2836 or via e-mail at ffdew@uaf.edu. Tim Hudson, associate regional director for operations and resources at the National Park Service Alaska Region, at (907) 644-3381 or via e-mail at tim_hudson@nps.gov. Jim Buckley, owner, Energy Alternatives, at (907) 227-7191 or via e-mail at jimbuckley@gci.net.

Marmian Grimes | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uaf.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Large-scale battery storage system in field trial
11.12.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH

nachricht New test procedure for developing quick-charging lithium-ion batteries
07.12.2017 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Midwife and signpost for photons

11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

How do megacities impact coastal seas? Searching for evidence in Chinese marginal seas

11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

PhoxTroT: Optical Interconnect Technologies Revolutionized Data Centers and HPC Systems

11.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>