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While off-grid electricity generators based on traditional fossil fuels can be turned on and off according to demand, stand-alone renewable energy facilities require to be coupled to an energy storage system in view of balancing the variable electricity supply with the demand.

Electrolysers, coupled with tanks, a fuel cell and a control system, offer the possibility to do so through the storage of energy in the form of hydrogen: the hydrogen is produced from water by the electrolyser when the electricity produced is in excess of demand and conversely, it is re-converted into electricity by the fuel cell when the renewable installation is generating insufficient amounts.

Adopting new domestic solutions for heat and power is essential in view of reducing energy dependency and CO2 emissions. Stationary fuel cells can produce both electricity and heat at different scales (from homes to industrial applications) while significantly reducing the environmental footprint and the energy bill.

As part of the many issues addressed by its research and innovation programme, the FCH JU  looks at the different options for fuel cells production and reduction of their costs and time to market.

While fuel cell technologies for residential heat and power cogeneration systems are by now well proven and widely recognised for their efficiency, they still struggle for public acceptance due to cost.

The new FCH JU project HEATSTACK aims at reducing thee production costs of their most expensive system components, the fuel cell stacks and the heat exchangers, by up to 60%.

The aspects of materials, design, manufacturing and upscaling will be addressed and optimised in view of improving the market competitiveness of both the proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

HEATSTACK started in April this year and is set to last 3 years.

During the World Hydrogen Energy Conference WHEC 2016 held in Zaragoza on June 13th-16th, conference visitors could take advantage of joining the driving demonstrations of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), offered by Toyota and BMW. The FCH JU project HYACINTH collected feedback on the impressions of the FCEV test drives. The overall purpose of the HYACINTH project is to gain a deeper understanding of the social acceptance of hydrogen technologies across Europe by combining specific qualitative and quantitative methods and samples of European citizens and stakeholders.

What about the end of life of equipment and plants based on fuel cells and hydrogen (FCH) technologies? Within the vision of decarbonising Europe through, among others, large-scale deployment of FCH technologies, considerations about end of life cannot be disregarded.

How will the components be recovered and recycled? Can existing methodologies be transferred? Are there any inherent challenges to be addressed  What novel approaches should be developed?

To face the challenge of safer hydrogen-based systems and fuel cells, the FCH JU project SUSANA is aiming at developing a CFD Model Evaluation Protocol. After the first part of the project, the verification database and a CFD benchmarking exercise has already been completed. The Model Evaluation Protocol will become a reference document both for CFD users and for regulatory and certifying bodies that have to provide permission for FCH systems and infrastructure.

Find out more about this project here.

In the field of harmonized test procedures for SOFC/SOEC stack testing, the FCH JU project SOCTESQA has managed to finalize, after the first part of its programme, the test matrix definition, the test station validation loop and the first round of initial tests on SOFC, SOEC and combined SOFC/SOEC modes. The consortium has already entered into a formal liaison with CENELEC and with IEC TC105 for the production of International Standards for solid oxide stacks. 

Find out more about the project here.

Within the efforts of reducing the costs of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell systems, FCH JU research project STAMPEM, now completed, has dealt with the development of improved coatings for stainless steel bipolar plates. A very promising coating applied by Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) has been identified, allowing for up to 6000 hours of operations thanks to an excellent corrosion protection without negative impact on the other performance properties, namely the interfacial contact resistance towards the gas diffusion layer. The coating has been calculated to allow a considerable cost reduction potential for bipolar plates within fuel cell systems. Figures as high as 90% cost reduction have been put forward for up-scaled operations. 

Selected under FCH JU call for proposals 2015, the recently started GrinHy project is aiming at proving the technological and economical interest of high-temperature electrolysis as a high electric efficient technology for hydrogen production. The system is also reversible, capable of being operated as a fuel cell to produce electricity when this would be needed.

The proof-of-concept action will be located in a steel production plant in view of capturing and exploiting the waste heat produced in this energy-intensive process.

Carrefour Group, the second-largest retailer in the world, will purchase more than 150 fuel cell units (GenDrive ), to be  deployed in STILL-brand class-2 and class-3 electric lift trucks at Carrefour's brand new distribution center located in Vendin-lès-Béthune, France.                        

The deployment will materialize thanks to the FCH JU financial support via the HyLIFT-EUROPE project and the units are delivered by Plug Power Inc, a leader in providing energy solutions. Securing Carrefour as fuel cell customer is a significant milestone that provides critical validation for hydrogen and fuel cells throughout the continent.

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