The world’s first formic acid-based fuel cell

23 March 2018

Scientists at EPFL and GRT Group have built the world’s first integrated power supply unit that can produce electricity from formic acid, using a fuel cell in an energy-efficient, safe, cost-effective, and sustainable way. The device is now available for demonstration purposes.
Clean energy will cost the same or less than fossil fuels by 2020 while renewable energy sources will meet 40 % of global energy demand by 2040. But because renewable energy is still largely variable the way ahead is to develop new methods for storing the energy surplus.
This is the obstacle that the “HYFORM-PEMFC” project aims to overcome. The project is being carried out by GRT Group, a company that focuses on energy transition with energy-storage development solutions, and professor Gabor Laurenczy’s research group at EPFL, which has developed the new, formic acid-hydrogen fuel cell device.
The device uses formic acid to store hydrogen, and can have both domestic and industrial applications. It has been designed to ensure substantial benefits in terms of size (one litre of formic acid carries 590 litres of hydrogen), ease of transportation, safety, and lower operating costs, while being completely environmentally sustainable.
The potential users of the HYFORM-PEMFC include, among others, those in areas with limited or no access to the power grid, and those who develop hydrogen transport systems. The unit can supply a single alpine house with all its heat and electricity, and with environmentally friendly refuelling. The technology can be also be scaled up to meet the power needs of larger sites, such as industrial plants.
GRT Group wants to support the transition towards a fully renewable energy supply, and to thus address the global challenge of reducing CO2 emissions. Its net step is to develop a complete, integrated system for storing renewable energy, for example excess solar electricity produced during the summer, which can then be used to produce electricity and heat on demand in the winter, thus making buildings energetically autonomous. This project will prove the economic benefits of the concept and its real potential in an integrated energy storage system

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