Technical Overview of Fuel Cell Systems: How Computer Simulation is Used to Reduce Design Time
Fuel cells offer the means for the conversion of chemical energy in hydrogen rich fuels (fossil and renewable) directly to electricity without having to generate thermal energy as an intermediate step. In a fuel cell, the fuel and oxidizer, usually the oxygen in air, react electrochemically to produce water and heat. The entire fuel cell system includes the fuel cell and a number of additional components. These components are used to process the primary fuel into a hydrogen-rich gas stream, to remove sulfur and carbon monoxide, to efficiently store and retrieve hydrogen fuel upon demand, and to manage the water produced by the fuel cell. The objective is to have an overall system with high energy conversion efficiency while maximizing the power to volume ratio for the power plant. This white paper takes a closer look at the current challenges in each of several fuel cell systems. Whenever appropriate, references to Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM), Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC), Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC), and Solid Acid Fuel Cells (SAFC) will be made.