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Energy independence in your home

In the photo, project leader Olaf Dybiński, PhD, on stage during the LIDER XIV project gala

Olaf Dybiński's, PhD, idea is being developed under the LIDER XIV grant

Imagine being able to generate electricity and heat for your own needs, no longer relying on the power grid. Olaf Dybiński, PhD, from the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology (WUT) aims to develop and build such a system.

This will be a prototype of a cogeneration unit (i.e., generating both electricity and heat in one technological process) of a completely new type (both in terms of technical solution and name) – MCeFC, or Molten Carbonate e-Fuel Cell.

– It is a high-temperature fuel cell stack based on carbonate cell technology but fueled with liquid biofuels and e-fuels instead of hydrogen – explains Olaf Dybiński, PhD, – These cells, through an electrochemical process involving the transport of carbonate ions, allow for the generation of electricity and heat. The entire process occurs at a temperature of 600-700°C.

This allows for the use of the endothermic reaction of steam reforming of liquid fuels – meaning that liquid fuels (such as kerosene, diesel, or various alcohols) are converted into synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) using steam and heat. The heat balance remains positive.

– Thanks to the appropriate design, it will be possible to use various, including synthetic, liquid fuels and biofuels directly, which is an innovation in the fuel cell market and in the small-scale cogeneration device industry – adds Dybiński, PhD.

Independent, safe, and ecological

The main advantage of MCeFC will be the energy independence of end users (on the scale of single-family homes) from the power grid.

– Fuels that will soon be available at every gas station or can be produced using traditional alcohol fermentation will be used to generate electricity and heat for own needs – says Dybiński, PhD – We are talking about alcohols – with an emphasis on those produced synthetically to maintain a closed carbon dioxide cycle – such as methanol, ethanol, propanol, or glycerin, as well as biofuels mainly produced based on natural alcohol fermentation processes, such as simply moonshine. In practice, the use of the developed cogenerator will be limited to refilling the fuel tank with a mixture of water and the chosen alcohol since the hydrogen involved in the energy production process will be released directly in the device from both the fuel and water. The MCeFC device should operate without service intervention for tens of thousands of hours.

The project abandoned the use of pure hydrogen fuel, avoiding problems with its transport and storage. These processes always generate losses and require the use of additional electricity, for example, for compression or liquefaction. This, of course, generates additional costs. Hydrogen is also highly flammable and explosive, making transport and storage difficult and dangerous if the fuel is stored at home.

Replacing hydrogen with fuels that can be transported and stored using the existing infrastructure of pipelines, tanks, and cans not only avoids problems associated with hydrogen as a fuel but also allows for the benefits of developing renewable energy sources, CO2 capture technologies, and energy storage in the form of chemical fuel energy.

– By using synthetic fuels produced from captured CO2 (e-fuels), we ensure a closed carbon dioxide cycle, thus not generating new pollutants into the atmosphere – adds Dybiński, PhD. – If we use biofuel, in fact, the MCeFC will be a renewable energy source that can be treated on par with photovoltaics or wind turbines.

Molten Carbonate e-Fuel Cell Idea

In the graphic depicted, it illustrates the principle of the Molten Carbonate e-Fuel Cell

Change requires change… of regulations

The use of biofuels to power the MCeFC in the future should enable the device to be treated as a renewable energy generator operating in a prosumer system – however, this requires adjustments to regulations.

–  As part of the project, we also plan to develop a strategy for changing regulations and lobby for expanding the definition of installations eligible to participate in the energy market as prosumers to include electrochemical generators such as MCeFC – emphasizes Dybiński, PhD.

Such a solution would bring additional profits for users and stabilize the operation of the power grid on any scale, as MCeFC generates stable electric power and is a controllable device, unlike photovoltaics and wind turbines, which are entirely dependent on weather conditions.

Currently, the team is at the stage of developing the technical design of the MCeFC unit components. The team includes Dybiński, PhD, as the project leader, Prof. Jarosław Milewski, Arkadiusz Szczęśniak, PhD, Łukasz Szabłowski, PhD, Andrzej Grzebielec, PhD, Aliaxandr Martsinchyk, MSc, and Pavel Shuhayeu, MSc.

The project "Development of a micro-cogeneration unit MCeFC based on MCFC fuel cells powered by e-fuels, biofuels, and CO₂-neutral liquid fuels" (REGENERATION) is being implemented under the LIDER XIV grant from the National Centre for Research and Development.