Together with the High Temperature Corrosion Centre HTC, Sandvik is working on creating better, more cost-effective materials to increase both the efficiency and service life of fuel cells. Demand is increasing for this highly efficient technology, which used properly can be extremely eco-friendly.
“Fuel cells are already used in a range of different segments and fields of application, because they can be portable or stationary and work well in both the private and commercial markets. Together with HTC, we’re making constant advances that benefit both our customers and the environment,” says Jörgen Westlinder, Manager Coated Strip Products R&D at Sandvik Materials Technology.
A wide array of uses
Generally speaking, a fuel cell works like a battery but with the advantage that it will provide electricity and heat as long as it receives fuel.
“For the time being, fuel cells are a small market, but with a huge future. They can be used in e.g. vehicles and households to provide electricity and heat, or in portable applications. They’re extremely efficient compared to e.g. internal combustion engines,” says Jörgen Westlinder.
In the transport segment, trucks are an interesting area as drivers need comfort energy in their cabs during overnight stops. The fuel cell can then use the truck’s diesel as fuel, which is much more sustainable than allowing the engine to idle.
“The great thing is the process also works in the opposite direction – fuel cells can use energy to produce fuel. For example, surplus electricity generated from solar or wind power can be used to produce and store hydrogen for use in fuel cells, for example to generate electricity at night or when the wind isn’t blowing,” says Jan Froitzheim, Associate Professor at the Division of Energy & Materials at Chalmers University of Technology.
“We’ve learned an incredible amount – HTC has helped Sandvik’s coated steel become a world leader.”
Jörgen Westlinder, Manager Coated Strip Products R&D at Sandvik Materials Technology.
A market of opportunities
Sandvik has worked together with HTC since its inception in 1996, and on coating research for fuel cells since 2008. Fuel cells are always connected in series, and a bipolar plate, which at Sandvik consists of specially coated steel, is used to separate the individual cells.
It’s here the collaboration with HTC plays an important part.
“Together, we measure conductivity and the service life of various coatings and material combinations in the field of high-temperature fuel cells, SOFC. We’ve learned an incredible amount – HTC has helped Sandvik’s coated steel become a world leader,” says Jörgen Westlinder.
Energy and energy efficiency are strategic areas for Sandvik.
“HTC understands our needs and is able to convert this to research that not only provides benefits for industry, but also for the public good. For Sandvik, the collaboration means the better use of resources and an ability to increase the efficiency of our customers’ installations.”
Sandvik is a global industrial group and research brings benefits at several levels.
“Our work with HTC has given us a stable skills platform that enables new collaborations with new customers. As we develop better, more efficient technologies, there are positive effects for our customers who in turn are able to advance and contribute to a more sustainable society.”
The future before our very eyes
Fuel cells are considered to be the future in sustainable energy. They can run on different sorts of fuel, both fossil and renewable, and with hydrogen the only by-product is water. They are also efficient, quiet and can be run continually.
“Fuel cells can play a major role in tomorrow’s society and the challenges we’re facing when it comes to deciding how climate neutral energy systems should look.”
The challenge today is making fuel cells at the right cost and achieving sustained performance throughout a long service life.
“The difficulty is in building a functioning fuel-cell economically. If the material is too cheap and of inferior quality, the cell will corrode and break down. Too expensive, and it’s not economically sustainable. By combining a standard steel with customised coatings, we can balance the equation. It’s here that much of our research with Sandvik takes place today,” says Jan Froitzheim, Associate Professor at the Division of Energy & Materials at Chalmers University of Technology.