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Fuel cell system in the rear external storage compartment of a motorhome
© Truma Gerätetechnik
Research project revisited: Several weeks of self-sufficient travelling
06.09.2012

Fuel cells for motorhomes on the market

At this year’s "Caravan Salon" trade fair for leisure mobility in Düsseldorf, the Truma equipment company was showcasing its VeGA fuel cell system, which is now available on the market. It enables automatic and optimised recharging of batteries in leisure vehicles (BINE reported during the research phase). The liquid gas available on board makes it possible for motor homes to be independent of external electricity supplies for several days or even weeks.

The VeGA fuel cell system is used to recharge batteries in motorhomes and caravans. VeGA generates environmentally friendly and efficient electricity from the liquid gas (propane and/or butane) available in those vehicles, and uses this electricity to charge the supply batteries. The liquid gas is desulphurised in the system, converted to hydrogen in the reformer and finally transformed into electricity in the fuel cell. The components in the reformer are based on the micro-structured plate heat exchanger technology. This technology enables the system to be started quickly and energy consuming processes to be combined with energy generating processes in a single component. It reduces heat losses and thus enables the system to maintain a high efficiency. Thanks to its high output power, which reaches a maximum of 250 watts (6,000 Wh per day), the system reliably secures the individual electricity requirements even if several devices such as the TV, refrigerator, lighting and heating are operated at once. Up to 28 kWh of electricity can be generated from an 11-kilogramme bottle of gas, which enables grid independence for several weeks. The fuel cell system works completely automatically: if a specific charge state for the supply battery is exceeded, VeGA switches itself on independently and charges the batteries with around 20 A. The high charge current and the optimised battery charge technology ensure a short, efficient charge process. This is controlled by the device’s internal charge electronics and can be adapted to various battery types (lead-acid, gel, absorbed glass mat). When the batteries are charged, the VeGA returns to stand-by mode. Alternatively, the fuel cell system can also be operated manually. A screen displays information on all relevant data such as the operating mode, battery voltage, charge current and servicing intervals.

Field test to reach market maturity

It is the first system to ensure independence from external electricity supplies for several days and even weeks. Practical testing of the fuel cell system under market conditions: After five years of development work, end customers and leisure vehicle manufacturers tested around 200 systems in a multi-stage field test. The device is now available for around 7,000 euros and can be retrofitted in existing vehicles.The device measures 72 x 46 x 29 cm, is generally suitable for all kinds of lead-acid, lead-gel and absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries, and can be retrofitted in almost all vehicles. The high charge current of up to 20 A means that the charge process is shorter than with conventional fuel cells and solar power systems.The fuel cell system was developed by Truma Gerätetechnik GmbH &Co. KG, a system supplier for the caravan industry, in collaboration with the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH (IMM). IMM was responsible for developing the reformer while Truma developed the fuel cell, overall system and the system controls.

More from BINE Information Service

The BINE Projektinfo brochure “On-board power supply with fuel cells” presents the research project with the concept, technology and initial practical experience.

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