Record fuel cell: Strengthening the decentralized energy supply system

Jülich researchers set a world record in August 2014: The scientists at the Institute of Energy and Climate Research have been keeping a high-temperature fuel cell developed there in operation for more than 60,000 hours, which is approximately seven years. A high level of efficiency and good options for waste heat utilisation speak in favour of fuel cells as an energy technology of the future.

The Jülich Institute of Energy and Climate Research (IEK) has been researching solid oxide fuel cells for more than 20 years. The operating temperature of around 700°C places the materials and seals under extreme stress: The special ceramics are doped with nickel; "the staff at the institute's Microstructure and Properties of Materials department have even developed their own steel grade for the metallic spacers in the fuel cell stacks", explains Dr Norbert H. Menzler, an expert on material optimisation. The operating conditions come at a price: For economically viable use, for example at micro-cogeneration plants, the cells must run for between 40,000 and 80,000 hours.

Engine for progress:

  • unique interdisciplinary approach
  • world record in continuous operation
  • degradation reduced to 0.3 percent / 1000 hours
  • operation using gas or hydrogen is possible without the need for conversion
  • use of recyclable materials
  • potential to expand the technology

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Photo: FZ Jülich

SOFC studies at the Central Institute for Engineering, Electronics and Analytics (ZEA) Department of Engineering and Technology (ZEA-1), the components of a solid oxide fuel cell.

World record shows application-readiness

The step made by the Jülich researchers with their world record in August 2014 is made even clearer:

The scientists at the Institute of Energy and Climate Research have been able to operate the high-temperature fuel cell for more than 60,000 hours and it is still running. An important step for a technology, the advantages of which are clear to see: Solid oxide fuel cells can alternatively be operated with methane (= natural gas) or hydrogen. Because of this, the energy infrastructure must not be directly changed in many cases. The electrical efficiency is very high at up to 60 per cent and the resulting waste heat can also be used. "With this long-term trial, we have shown that the solid oxide fuel cell is ready for application", explains Dr Menzler.

The next step: fuel cells as an electrolyser for water splitting

The properties of fuel cells will be further improved by the Jülich researchers in the future and will increase the number of possible applications: The research centre is currently working on also being able to use the fuel cell in the other direction, namely as an electrolyser for water splitting. The operating temperature is also to be further reduced. To this end, research and development by the Jülich research centre comprises the complete chain of development from material synthesis and material development to the manufacture of parts and components to system operation and modelling.

Photo: Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH

"The Jülich SOFC (solid oxide fuel cell) research includes the entire chain of development, from material synthesis to structural elements and components to system operation. This scientific range from basic understanding to real operation is unique."

Dr. Norbert H. Menzler, head of the wet chemical design team

Partners and sponsors

  • Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH