General Electric Study Solid Polymer Fuel Cell

McElroy and Nuttall (1982) of General Electric reported on a study done for Los Alamos National Laboratories in 1981 to determine whether solid polymer fuel cells could be used for automotive applications. The hydrogen would be derived from methanol by a fuel processor using steam reforming followed by a CO shift reaction. These researchers concluded that using dry methanol instead of a mixture of methanol and water would make refueling easier. To supply the power needed for start-up and acceleration, the fuel cell would operate on pure hydrogen and pure oxygen stored in small reservoirs (600 psi), produced by a small solid polymer electrolyte electrolyzer using power from the fuel cell during periods of lower power demand. In normal operation, the cathode would use air at 10 atm pressure, delivered by a free-piston positive displacement compressor. The power required to drive the compressor would be recovered by the remaining pressure of the cathode exhaust gases that would have been passed through a heat exchanger to take up the heat from the just-compressed air.

Additional power would be supplied by the high-pressure steam heated by the CO shift reactor and the lower-pressure steam from the fuel cell. The steam would be condensed after the expander, and the water would be reused in the system.

The fuel cell engine would be economically feasible if the cost of the catalyst and the polymer could be lowered. A catalyst loading of 0.75 mg/cm2 could be technically possible. A lower-cost polymer could be developed that would operate for a duration of 3000 to 5000 hours. For a continuous net power output of 20 kW (net peak of 60 kW), the fuel cell would cost $140 to $200/kW. Of that total cost, the platinum cost was $48/kW for a total of $960 of platinum, which could be recovered. The fuel cell power plant would meet specifications of 12 ft3 volume, 700 lb weight, and 96 VDC nominal system voltage.

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