Solid Oxide Fuel Cells: Denmark Paves New Ground In Clean Energy

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells: Denmark Paves New Ground In Clean Energy

An Individual Fuel Cell

With the increasing awareness that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane have had deleterious effects on the environment, several nations have assiduously worked to find methods of creating energy in clean and efficient ways. Besides being home to the world’s happiest people (according to one survey), and host of last year’s UN climate summit (COP 15), Denmark has led the charge in finding creative ways to harness alternative energy. Reeling from the ruinous economic effects of the 1973 oil crisis, Denmark has since drastically reduced its dependence on foreign oil by focusing on the development of renewable energy solutions. Danish scientists have catapulted their nation beyond most other countries in the energy sector thanks in large part to the efforts of Risø DTU, a research organization for sustainable energy in northern Denmark. Risø DTU has sedulously conducted research in the field of alternative energy for the past 20 years, and finally, they have found a potent clean energy source by the name of Solid Oxide Fuel Cells or SOFC’s.

Fuel cells are used to convert fuel into electrical currents that provide energy.  Although fuel cells have proven to be a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, they are typically used in remote locations because widespread use would be too costly. Fortunately, the discovery of SOFC’s may allow fuel cell technology to be more widely affordable.  Unlike regular fuel cells that only harness hydrogen, SOFC’s are able to utilize hydrogen, butane, methanol, and other petroleum products in order to create energy. The high efficiency of SOFC’s thus allows more heat and electricity to be produced for a lesser cost in a shorter span of time. To fully implement SOFC’s, Risø DTU has been looking into ways to make them readily available to regions where the energy is needed. One plan of action entails the use of an electrical system consisting of micro combined heat and power, more commonly known as Micro-CHP’s.

Micro-CHP’s  are able to increase the total energy utilization of primary energy sources, which means that they are able to process ‘waste heat’. Waste heat consists of the excess heat that is produced when an engine such as a fuel cell is creating energy. The secondary low-grade waste heat is not as strong or as efficient as the targeted primary high-grade heat. Therefore, it makes sense for there to be a mechanism in place that makes sure that consumers receive the maximum amount of useful clean energy without having to pay for adulterated, less effective energy. Unlike traditional power plants which only deliver about 30% of the heat content from a primary heat energy source to consumers, micro-CHP’s can convert about 90% of the heat from a primary energy source to consumers for functional purposes. Lastly, it goes without saying that a large power plant cannot fit into a small home or an office. On the other hand, micro-CHP’s are about the size of a dishwasher. Thus they are readily able to provide energy within the confines of an office space or home.

In order to commercialize micro-CHP’s, Risø DTU has entered into a long-term strategic cooperation agreement with Topsoe Fuel Cell. Topsoe has been heavily involved in the development of commercial fuel  cells, and they are currently marketing them under the name Topsoe PowerCores™. Topsoe Fuel Cell has also entered into an agreement with Dantherm Power, a Danish company selling micro-CHP’s.

Indubitably, Risø DTU’s fuel cell research has not been done in vain, as Danish companies have acknowledged the value of SOFC’s and have since transformed Risø DTU’s novel ideas into concrete business plans to help the environment. Hopefully, these positive steps in the field of alternative energy will be disseminated beyond Denmark, and help to reduce and reverse the damage to the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases.

Photo Courtesy of Jakub Mosur