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RA2: Energy

 

The research activities at FORTH/ICE-HT cover some hot fields in the area of renewable energy worldwide, as described in the following shortlist and figure:

 

Figure1

 

  • High Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC). One of the most significant contributions of FORTH/ICE-HT is the development of HT-PEMFC based on a homemade technology. Within the framework of several EU and national projects a novel high temperature (160-220oC) polymer electrolyte has been synthesized and developed, which can operate at temperatures as high as 220oC and under high CO/steam content (even up to 2% CO and 30% steam) in the feed of reformate gas. This Membrane Electrode assembly (MEA) is at present one of the two state of the art polymer based MEAs operating at high temperature. This novel MEA is based on:
  • New polymeric material based on aromatic polyethers bearing pyridine units in the main or side chains and can be effectively imbibed with phosphoric acid in order to develop proton conducting properties. Its chemical structure is very stable under harsh oxidative conditions with very good mechanical integrity.
  • New electrocatalysts with decreased Pt loading based on pyridine based functionalized carbon nanotubes, which can sustain efficient operation under H2 reformate mixtures with high CO (>2%) and H2O (up to 30%) content.
Based on the aforementioned technology, ADVENT Technologies SA has been established since 2005 and has successfully optimized the MEA into a commercially available product. Since 2005 ADVENT has attracted more than 7000k$, while recently has raised more than 2000k$ and expanded its activities to the United States through ADVENT Inc. established at Connecticut.

  • Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC), operating at temperatures around 750-900oC, are power generators capable of converting the chemical energy of a fuel into electrical energy combined with a high temperature thermal by-product. The fuel cell group at FORTH/ICE-HT is very active in the area of solid oxide fuel cells since its establishment in 1984. One of the most significant contributions is the development of Ni-based carbon tolerant anodes so that the internal steam reforming of methane and natural gas can be directly processed at the anode of an SOFC. This has been a long sought goal in SOFC technology and, beyond the basic research achievements towards this direction, quite recently FORTH/ICE-HT -in collaboration with ECN- managed to develop a carbon tolerant NiAu/CGD anode which can be a real breakthrough in the SOFC technology
  • Li-ion Batteries. The batteries market is expected to grow dramatically in the years to come due to: (i) their use in electric vehicles and (ii) the need for storing energy in a grid comprised mainly of solar (PV) and wind farms. Li-ion batteries are those with the most favorable characteristics in terms of energy and power density, as well as cycle stability for the envisaged uses. However, performance improvements accompanied with cost reduction are needed to ensure widespread application in e-mobility and energy storage. Research towards improved Li-ion batteries is focusing on nanostructured electrode materials, based on: (i) Sn nanoparticles and (ii) graphene or Si/graphene structures.
  • Catalytic fuel processing for hydrogen production. Reactions related to fuel processing, such as water gas shift (WGS) and reforming are investigated focusing on the development of low-cost catalysts for ethanol and methanol reforming aiming at operation at the lowest possible temperature. Ethanol and methanol are important hydrogen sources, since, on one hand, they can be derived from renewable sources and, on the other hand, they are in liquid form easy to store and transport. Activities in the last five years dealt with reforming over copper and cobalt-based catalysts and WGS reaction over copper and gold-based catalysts. Development of new catalysts is based on the method of combustion synthesis and on new precursors. Integration of methanol reforming catalysts inside high-temperature PEM fuel cells to allow for efficient electricity generation in a compact unit directly from liquid biofuels is also pursued. The goal is to develop highly active alcohol reforming catalysts with sufficient activity at the operating temperature of the fuel cell (200oC). In-situ production of hydrogen is expected to lead to higher efficiencies and smaller footprint of the system.
  • Purification of hydrogen produced from fuel reforming using selective oxidation or membrane separation. The work carried out at FORTH/ICE-HT on removal of CO from hydrogen-rich reformate gas has led to the development of promising CuO-CeO2 catalysts, a work which has been globally recognized. The relevant papers have gathered ~900 citations since publication of the first paper in 2001. A recently launched activity deals with development of membrane materials for separation of hydrogen from reformate gas at room temperature. There is great need in the development of membranes for H2/CO2 separation at temperatures around ambient since existing membranes (i.e. Pd-based) are quite costly.
  • Advanced and sustainable energy systems development. Based on the high temperature PEM fuel cell technology, RTD is being conducted aiming at the design and manufacture of HT-PEM fuel cell stacks and systems for renewable electricity production at power outputs ranging from 100 W (portable applications) up to 3 kW for stationary and space applications. The stacks and systems are briefly described below:
  • A 1 kW HT-PEM stack is being developed based on an optimized design of the flow fields and the gas diffusion/catalytic layers of the electrodes so that an effective and uniform distribution of the gases can be achieved, thus improving performance and avoiding degradation of the MEA.
  • A 3 kW Regenerative Fuel Cell system (RFC) is being developed specifically for space applications. This activity is executed within the framework of a European Space Agency (ESA) project and FORTH will develop and construct a 1.5 kW high pressure PEM electrolyzer and a 3 kW HT-PEM fuel cell stack. The two electrochemical devises will be integrated into a regenerative Water/H2-O2 system, which will be able to store renewable electricity by water splitting in the form of H2-O2 chemical energy, which can be thereafter utilized by the fuel cell to produce electricity. The RFC is intended to substitute the voluminous and heavy battery system that is being currently used in geostationary telecommunication satellites.
  • A 100 W portable electricity producing device. This is based on an innovative HT-PEM technology that has been developed at FORTH by the design and construction of a compact Internal Reforming Methanol Fuel Cell (IRMFC). The fuel cell is converting methanol into CO2 and H2 at the anode compartment, and H2 is readily consumed at the anode of a HT MEA for the efficient production of electricity. This device is based on the novel high temperature polymer electrolytes and the low temperature structured reforming catalysts that have been developed within the context of the IRMFC development so that both together can function in a sustainable way at 210oC. The device can be used as a battery charger for portable devices or it can substitute the low power density battery equipment as portable electricity provider for military applications.
  • Photo-electrochemical H2 production. H2 is being produced on nanostructured photoanodes either by photoelectrochemical water splitting or by photoelectron-reforming of the organic content of waste water. The photoanodes are composed of a composite electrode layer, which comprises modified ZnO nanorods by quantum dots, CdSe or CdS, protected by a nanoparticulate layer of TiO2. These novel photoanode nanostructures show enhanced sunlight harvesting with increased stability and efficiency compared to other materials. The ZnO nanorods promote fast electron diffusion avoiding electron trapping, CdSe or CdS enhance light harvesting at wavenumbers higher than 500 nm, while the photoexcitation of the electrochemically stable TiO2 layer activates the electrocatalytic function of the electrochemical interface.
  • Recovery of Energy and High added value products from Organic Wastes and Biomass. Different processes based on pure and mixed microbial cultures have been developed for the valorization of various types of organic wastes (agro-industrial, municipal, etc.) and biomass (e.g. sweet sorghum), aiming mainly at the recovery of biofuels/energy and/or other high added value products. Bioprocesses such as anaerobic digestion for methane generation, dark fermentative hydrogen production, alcoholic fermentation, microbial polyhydroxyalkanoates (bioplastics) production, and direct electricity generation via microbial fuel cells have been optimized based on the development of novel reactor configurations, bioreactor operational development, process control and mathematical modeling. The main achievements include the development of a novel reactor type, the Periodic Anaerobic Baffled Reactor (PABR), which offers major advantages during anaerobic digestion of complex industrial wastes with very high organic loading. The efficiency of most of the proposed bioprocesses have also been validated at pilot scale.
  • Pre-treatment technologies for enhanced biofuels production. Research in the area of pre-treatment technologies of various wastes aiming to optimize biofuels production with emphasis on methane has been conducted. The wastes tested include: agro-industrial wastes, such as olive mill wastewaters (OMW) i.e. three-phase OMW and two-phase OMW, olive mill solid residues and lignocellulosic biomass (softwood, hardwood and agricultural residues). In the case of OMW, both biological (using white rot fungi) and thermochemical methods have been assessed, aiming at the reduction of their phenolic compounds that are inhibitory to the methanogenic microorganisms. A remarkable outcome was the significant reduction of phenolics, and subsequent facilitation of anaerobic digestion, when the waste was treated with immobilized colonies of the fungus Pleurotus ostreatous in a column reactor with recirculation. The pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass aiming at enhanced biogas production (as well as hydrogen and ethanol) has been approached by applying thermochemical methods, such as the use of bases and acids and high temperatures.
  • Flexible solar cells. Flexible photovoltaics based on blends of polymeric semiconductors, such as regioregular polythiophene (P3HT) and soluble fullerene derivatives (PCBM) have attracted considerable attention due to the certain advantages that this technology offers, like the facile manufacture of low-cost, large-area, flexible and market compliant devices. The efficiencies of these bulk heterojunction solar cells are still not very high but there are numerous attempts to increase them above 5%. Important problems that have been considered are: the effective harvest of photons by matching the absorption spectrum of the donor polymers with the solar spectrum, the efficient control of the blend morphology towards a bicontinuous interpenetrating network, and the development of other type polymeric acceptors.
  • Hybrid organic-inorganic solar cells (HSC). They constitute a low-cost alternative to traditional Si photovoltaic devices, based on the interface between a nanostructured oxide semiconductor, typically titanium dioxide, and a conjugated semiconducting (organic) polymer. To sensitize visible light absorption, a dye is attached on the semiconductor nanoparticles. Usually, the oxide acts as n-type and the polymer as p-type semiconductor. Such cells are purely solid state devices. Research at FORTH/ICE-HT focuses on the synthesis and characterization of novel polymeric materials (p-type) as well as the study and development of thin oxide films such as WO3, TiO2, ZnO and MoO3 with controlled structure and surface properties.
  • Wind Energy. FORTH/ICE-HT is very active in the area of composite manufacturing and characterization. One of the applications for advanced composites is their use in wind energy technologies, mainly as wind blades, but, also, in some cases, as structural components for wind towers. In terms of wind blades the main issues covered so far are the enhancement of their durability and operational life and the increase of blade efficiency by suitable reduction of their specific weight. Another important problem that has led to catastrophic failures in the past is the enhancement of the wind blade damping characteristics. This has been successfully dealt with the introduction of hybrid composite patches that contain fibers, such as aramid of high damping capacity. Another activity concerns the development of procedures which circumvent the barriers set to the transport and erection of MW-size wind turbines in areas of limited infrastructure and the reduction of costs by means of design optimization and tailoring. More specifically, FORTH/ICE-HT has contributed in the design and development of structural composite materials for turbine towers.
   
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