News – What`s happening in energy research

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Installed in forklift trucks, direct methanol fuel cells last longer than batteries.
Fuel cell impresses in dynamic endurance test

Pallet truck on alcohol

Ten thousand hours of operation: This record was set by the Institute for Energy and Climate Research at the Research Centre Jülich using a hybrid system based on direct methanol fuel cells. In the project, which has been funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, a fuel cell stack has been designed for use in electric forklift trucks.

Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) convert the liquid methanol fuel directly into electricity. Small electrical drive systems are designed to help them operate for longer periods and distances. In contrast to batteries, DMFC systems do not have to be recharged using comparatively complicated and time-consuming processes. You just have to refuel them with methanol. “In the dynamic endurance test, we were able to prove that the fuel cell system achieves life spans around twice as long as current battery sets. This therefore also demonstrates the economic feasibility of DMFC systems, as has been verified in accompanying studies,” says Professor Detlef Stolten, the head of the institute.

The researchers have been researching the day-to-day operation in an actual warehouse where the small forklift trucks used are known as “low lift pallet trucks”. In particular, they have been examining the accelerating, braking and downtimes as well as the basic and peak loads. The load profile has undergone continuous testing. The tested stack – a block comprising 88 fuel cells – has a nominal output of 1.3 kW and the hybrid systems a peak output of 7 kW. Starting in August 2010, the test continued for well over a year.

Success from ten years of work

The first system developed by the Jülich researchers in 2002 had a lifespan of 50 hours in the laboratory. During the last ten years, the researchers have made the technology fit for actual industrial use, whereby they have increased the operating time in dynamic operation to the currently measured ten thousand hours. In addition to increasing the lifespan, they have therefore also increased the power density and range of DMFC systems.

Fuel cells have been undergoing development in Germany for years, and not just for the decentralised generation of electricity and heat but also as drive units for vehicles for mobile applications. In its 6th Energy Research Programme (german only), the German federal government is therefore banking on this technology in order to achieve the reduction in the primary energy requirements stipulated in the energy concept – on the one hand through increasing efficiency on the energy demand side and on the other hand through significantly increasing the level of utilisation on the supply side.
BINE has recently reported on the use of fuel cells for supplying on-board electricity.



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