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Posted: Apr 18, 2013

Advanced technology for saving up to 40% of household energy

(Nanowerk News) Goal of the European EURECA project is to develop cogeneration energy technology in the home, anticipating thus energy savings of up to 40%. EURECA focuses on obtaining a cheaper design for fuel cells using new technologies for materials which are cleaner and more efficient than other micro-cogeneration techniques.
Efficient use of the energy consumed in industrial processes is indispensable in order to maintain the competitiveness of companies. And the efficient use of the energy consumed in homes is equally important for the energy balance of a country, for the financial stability of households, and also for the environment.
In this context, the European EURECA project in which IK4-Cidetec and the Cegasa company are taking part, both references in fuel cell technology, has focused on cogeneration of energy technology for the domestic household.
The micro-cogeneration technology which this project aims to encourage is based on the simultaneous production of heat and electricity, in such a way that it achieves savings of up to 40% in overall energy consumption, thanks to a reduction in the losses of electric energy during its transport and distribution, due to the fact that it is produced in situ, in the same spot where it is required.
Cogeneration to date has been a phenomenon linked to industry, contributing to achieving more efficient and competitive production system, saving on energy and emissions, and providing benefits for the energy supplied.
Optimisation of energy consumption
Cogeneration technology makes sense where electricity and heat is needed at low temperatures – e.g. for heating of buildings, hot water, swimming pool temperature control, etc., although the main goal is the cogeneration of energy at a domestic/residential level.
The basic technology in the EURECA project is based on membrane fuel cells, a modular and efficient technology for electricity production which, moreover, generates heat which can be recovered and reused.
The principal novelty of the project is that it is set to design a new type of fuel cell with an operational temperature greater than that of the “conventional” membrane fuel cell technology. To date, the typical functioning temperature of the cell has been in the order of 60-70ºC and, thus, the heat generated was difficult to harness and so deemed more a sub-product rather than a value in itself.
With the technology being developed in the EURECA project, the operational temperature of the cell increases to 100-120ºC. Under these conditions a “greater quality” heat flow at a higher temperature is generated, facilitating the harnessing thereof and, thus, giving rise to a substantial increase in the global efficiency of the process. Given these conditions it is possible to talk of a true micro-cogeneration of electricity and heat.
Nonetheless, this approach presents certain technological challenges which will have to be tackled during the project. In order to reach the targets, project members are working on the optimisation of the materials so that they can function within the suitable range of temperatures and, in particular, in the enhancement of the efficiency of the electro-catalysts used in the cell, one of the main cost elements of the technology.
The other great challenge is the reduction of manufacturing costs. The large-scale establishment of fuel cells on the market depends on the cost-effectiveness of the materials. This is why one of the objectives of the EURECA project is reducing the costs associated with micro-cogeneration processes, making the fuel cells more competitive.
In short, a new generation of fuel cells will be developed, based on new, advanced high-performances and low-cost materials.
Source: Basque Research
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