AFC Energy Alkaline Fuel Cell Looks to Ammonia as Hydrogen Source

May 20, 2019 by Scott McMahan

AFC Energy reported the first successful integration of alkaline fuel cells with an ammonia cracker for hydrogen production. The company says that ammonia can be used as an inexpensive and widely available liquid fuel that enables a reliable, clean solution to the growing demand for off-grid electricity. It has the potential to provide a cost-effective fuel source for the company's recently debuted zero-emissions EV recharging system, CH2ARGE.

Ammonia is among the world's most produced inorganic chemicals and is clean. The primary bi-products of cracking and consuming ammonia are water and nitrogen. AFC Energy's new system cracks ammonia to produce a flow of hydrogen to generate electricity from the fuel cell.

An alkaline fuel cell converts oxygen from the air and hydrogen from a supply (in this case produced from an ammonia and an ammonia cracker) into electrical energy and heat. It's chemically analogous to a battery that will provide electric power continuously, as long as you feed it hydrogen and air. The only by-products of the process are demineralized water and heat - both of which also have commercial uses. Other than producing water, an alkaline fuel cell is a zero-emission device.

Alkaline Fuel Cell Electrolyte

One key component of all fuel cells is the electrolyte. An electrolyte is a solution that can conduct electricity. In an alkaline fuel cells the electrolyte is an alkaline liquid, which in AFC Energy's fuel cell is potassium hydroxide also known as KOH. The presence of the hydroxyl ions traveling across the electrolyte makes a circuit and electrical energy can be extracted.

Development of AFC's new system follows the successful research and development through the EU funded Alkammonia Project. Using the technology, AFC Energy was able to successfully demonstrate an ability to scale up power production that could deliver multi-MW solutions for powering larger off-grid communities.

"The need for affordable, clean off-grid energy has never been greater," said Adam Bond, CEO of AFC Energy. "There could be as many as 36 million EVs on UK roads by 2040 according to the Future Energy Scenarios forecast, and the National Grid simply won't be able to cope with that kind of rise in demand.

"We also need sustainable off-grid energy to protect against harmful but often overlooked sources of emissions. In major cities such as London, construction sites which rely on diesel generators are responsible for 14.5% of emissions of the most dangerous particulates according to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. These particulates, such as PM2.5, have been linked to an increased number of respiratory related illnesses. AFC Energy's latest development in ammonia integration offers a timely opportunity to address these issues."

AFC Energy says its integration of ammonia with its alkaline fuel cell technology has the potential to serve as an alternative to off-grid power generators and eliminate the harmful emissions they produce.

Fuel Cells Accept Hydrogen from Ammonia

With its fuel cells able to accept a lower grade, and lower cost, hydrogen derived from ammonia, AFC Energy says it will be able to deliver cost-effective hydrogen solutions without compromising the performance of the fuel cells.

Ammonia can be produced almost anywhere in the world, allowing fuel cells to be used in remote locations previously unable to import and store viable hydrogen fuel sources.

AFC Energy intends to utilize already available ammonia crackers and therefor does not need further research and development that would otherwise delay the delivery of the fuel cell technology to the market.

The company says it was already approached by international organizations regarding the potential of full system integration at scales up to or in excess of 1MW.