Renewable Electricity Generation via Solar-Powered Methanol Reforming: Hybrid Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Systems Based on Novel Non-Concentrating, Intermediate-Temperature Solar Collectors
Tremendous research efforts have been conducted studying the capturing and conversion of solar energy. Solar thermal power systems offer a compelling opportunity for renewable energy utilization with high efficiencies and excellent cost-effectiveness. The goal of this work was to design a non-concentrating collector capable of reaching temperatures above 250 °C, use this collector to power methanol steam reforming, and operate a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell using the generated hydrogen. The study presents the construction and characterization of a non-concentrating, intermediate-temperature, fin-in-tube evacuated solar collector, made of copper and capable of reaching stagnation temperatures of 268.5 °C at 1000 W/m2 irradiance. The collector was used to power methanol steam reforming, including the initial heating and vaporization of liquid reactants and the final heating of the gaseous reactants. A preferential oxidation (PROX) catalyst was used to remove CO from simulated reformate gas, and this product gas was used to operate a PEM fuel cell. The results show 1) that the outlet temperature is not limited by heat transfer from the absorber coating to the heat transfer fluid, but by the amount of solar energy absorbed. This implicates a constant heat flux description of the heat transfer process and allows for the usage of materials with lower thermal conductivity than copper. 2) It is possible to operate a PEM fuel cell from reformate gas if a PROX catalyst is used to remove CO from the gas. 3) The performance of the fuel cell is only slightly decreased (~4%) by CO2 dilution present in the reformate and PROX gas. These results provide a foundation for the first renewable electricity generation via solar-powered methanol reforming through a hybrid PEM fuel cell system based on novel non-concentrating, intermediate-temperature solar collectors.
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