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Old 01-14-2015, 01:12 AM   #1
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Fuel Cells

Fuel cells; is their time coming soon, or is it already here?

They are starting to look interesting, because our boat has modest electrical needs and a fuel cell combined with solar panels and maybe a small wind turbine would allow us stay at anchor for extended periods of time and/or stay out in remote areas of the coast longer without having to come in for fuel.

They are fully automatic...would fire up when the solar panels and wind turbine can't keep up and the batteries go down to a 50% charge, then stay on until the batteries are charged. Some have adjustible set points for them to turn off and on.

They are essentially silent, and fit in tight spaces.

No need for a cooling water through hull.

Some of the interesting rabbit holes I've been falling through lately:

EFOY Pro (methanol, available in Europe & North America, proprietary fuel cartridges) EFOY Pro and Accessories | Ensol Systems

EFOY Comfort (smaller fuel cell than pro)
http://www.efoy-comfort.com/which-model

Acumentrics (propane, available in US) Fuel Cell Generators - Acumentrics

Truma VeGA (propane...dealer installed, Europe only) VeGA benefits, tips and answers

WATT Fuel Cell (propane, kerosene...in development) Watt Fuel Cell

Merlin Python (diesel...in development) http://www.merlinpowersystems.com/pr...ell-generator/

Acumetrics vs Honda 3000i (according to Acumentrics) http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/...tte_2014_o.pdf

SOFC's (Review Article) Frontiers | Fabrication Methods and Performance in Fuel Cell and Steam Electrolysis Operation Modes of Small Tubular Solid Oxide Fuel Cells: A Review | Fuel Cells

SOFC's (Nature) Micro-tubular solid oxide fuel cell based on a porous yttria-stabilized zirconia support : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group
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Old 01-14-2015, 05:21 AM   #2
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Silence is the really big benefit for boats. Here's one that is in limited production, available in Germany at least. It is all great, it can use a variety of fuels. But the key component, the stack, doesn't last all that long and is unbelievably expensive to replace. So I just can't get one yet...
About Ceramic Fuel Cells
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Old 01-14-2015, 09:44 AM   #3
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Fuel cells aren't likely to make it in boats, or most other places as well. The reason is that they run on hydrogen fundamentally. Well hydrogen is the world's most abundant element you say. Well, yes but all of that hydrogen is combined with oxygen in the form of water so it is useless as a fuel. You can use electric power to disassociate the hydrogen from the water to make free hydrogen. But what is the point of that on a boat?

You can convert other things to hydrogen- almost any gaseous or liquid fuel including natural gas, propane and diesel fuel. But it takes a micro chemical plant to do it with temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees, which is why all of the propane and diesel fuel cells listed above are "in development" and are likely to stay that way for a long time. And when you do convert them to hydrogen you lose half of the heating value and for the greenies all of the carbon goes up the stack.

Methanol can be used directly in some fuel cells but it is very inefficient. Overall efficiency is less than 40% and methanol itself has a heating value per pound that his half of other hydrocarbon fuels. So it takes a lot of gallons to make a kwh of electricity. Not good for boats. And how do you make methanol? With the chemical plant described above where half the energy goes up the stack. And price the Foy methanol cartridges, wow!!

So don't look for a reasonably priced, high efficiency fuel cell system to be available for your boat any time soon. Solar, wind and the diesel powered generator will be around for a long time.

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Old 01-14-2015, 09:59 AM   #4
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I'm not suggesting fuel cells may be the most rational choice, but then again, we're boat owners! Some people spend $10,000.00 per foot for their boats, then use them for day trips and overnighters, or have huge twins capable of getting their 50 footer onto plane...where's the rationality in that?

Some people, myself included, might pay more for a generator that is fully automatic and silent.

EFOY appears to be the first out of the gate in a big way, but you're right about the price of their fuel canisters. That's why the propane options are the most intriguing so far. Not holding my breath for the commercial availability of diesel or kerosene fuel cells anytime soon.

As for maintenance schedules, the propane using Acumentrics RP250P (which is about the size of a Honda 3000i) claims, "Annual Service: Air and fuel filters – Replace Desulfurizer canister – Replace Batteries, fans, valves, etc. – Inspect, clean or replace as necessary."

Haven't contacted them yet as to what costs may be associated with that, or how long their tubular fuel stacks last.

http://www.acumentrics.com/Collatera...t-Dec-2012.pdf
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:00 AM   #5
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:12 AM   #6
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Wasn't it a beer can and a banana peel that got him back to the future?
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:15 AM   #7
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Greetings,
Mr. MM. "...beer can and a banana peel..." indeed it was but bananas are bad luck aboard so, maybe a beer can and a potato peel.
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Old 01-14-2015, 03:45 PM   #8
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I'm not suggesting fuel cells may be the most rational choice, but then again, we're boat owners! Some people spend $10,000.00 per foot for their boats, then use them for day trips and overnighters, or have huge twins capable of getting their 50 footer onto plane...where's the rationality in that?
Sorry...that should have been $10,000.00 per foot for a used boat.
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Old 01-14-2015, 05:07 PM   #9
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I saw an Efoy this summer and started to get quite excited by it. When I thought about it and did a little math, though hardly complete, I realized that they had somewhat limited capacity that was essentially "stored energy" in the form of Methanol cartridges. Okay, that's kind of cool, you can just pop another in to "recharge" them. Which starts to sound a lot like regular fuel, just a bit more quiet. Then I realized the advantage was that they generated electricity, or maybe to say "stored energy" that is in the Methanol. They are silent as far as I know. So, for the benefit of silence, I can generate electricity that is stored up in fuel. Then I realized I had literally a few days before just hauled over a thousand pounds of batteries on board....that generate silent power....that is generated by fuel.

So I started down the path of wondering why a fuel cell was going to be a better choice for silent energy than the batteries I already owned, that were capable of storing vastly more energy than the fuel cell? Kind of ruined it for me.

At next haul out, I'm finally going to get the chance of installing a water separating exhaust on my single cylinder diesel DC generator. At which point the theory goes that I will have the best of both worlds in a generator I've been slowly building that would eventually be next to silent.

You really do have to look at fuel as "stored" energy to see the light on most of this stuff.

Of course I still think they are cool, can't help it.
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Old 01-14-2015, 06:48 PM   #10
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Why this might make sense for us is that we intend to spend weeks at a time in remote anchorages. As photographers, when we find an incredible place we'll want to stay to gather images.

Our boat is only 30' and the PO squeezed in a 100hp engine where there used to be a 65hp engine, and put an extra 50 gallon fuel tank in the lazarette. No wiggle room for a diesel generator.

So, to charge our 450 amp hour house bank when it's clouded over and drizzling for weeks on end with no wind (as is known to happen quite often on BC's north coast) our choices are to run the main engine, carry gasoline and a Honda generator, convert a Honda generator to propane, or go down the fuel cell road.

Note to self: We already carry propane in a fiberglass tank on the aft deck for a LEHR 9.9hp outboard kicker so another tank won't be a problem...should compare Honda generator converted to propane with fuel cells. Savings might justify the noise!
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Old 01-14-2015, 07:19 PM   #11
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Our boat is only 30' and the PO squeezed in a 100hp engine where there used to be a 65hp engine, and put an extra 50 gallon fuel tank in the lazarette. No wiggle room for a diesel generator.

So, to charge our 450 amp hour house bank when it's clouded over and drizzling for weeks on end with no wind (as is known to happen quite often on BC's north coast) our choices are to run the main engine, carry gasoline and a Honda generator, convert a Honda generator to propane, or go down the fuel cell road.
Perhaps replacing the alternator on your current engine with a larger one and running an hour in the morning and evening is the simplest and best answer. You have the added fuel capacity.

Diesel engines have stood the test of time, fuel cells - not so much.
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Old 01-14-2015, 08:07 PM   #12
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Perhaps replacing the alternator on your current engine with a larger one and running an hour in the morning and evening is the simplest and best answer. You have the added fuel capacity.

Diesel engines have stood the test of time, fuel cells - not so much.
Thanks for chiming in

The PO upgraded to an 80 amp alternator, albeit a Yanmar (Hitachi) one. I purchased, but haven't installed yet, a Sterling Power amp to battery charger...which in theory will shorten charging times...a consideration when moving from one anchorage to another could take as little as an hour. A more hairy chested, gnarly alternator could be in the cards, with the Yanmar as a spare.

I'd prefer charging the batts without diesel, if possible, despite having the extra fuel. The inlets and channels on BC's north coast are long, and fueling locations are scarce. The goal will be to stay for as long as possible without having to come back in for diesel.

We once spent two months in the winter sea kayaking from Kitimat to Bella Bella, so "staying out there" for as long as possible is the ultimate goal.

I've heard that life (or researching systems for a boat) is like focusing a camera; you have to go too far, then come back too far, then try again to find the right answers.
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Old 01-15-2015, 05:15 AM   #13
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MurrayM; It's people like you that encourage new technologies be developed to satisfy a specific need.

A small silent fuel efficient power source would find wide acceptance in many areas. Whether it be a fuel cell or some as yet to be developed technology remains to be seen.

Dino powered generators, solar, wind and batteries are all power sources that have been around a long time. Yes, it's time for something new.
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Old 01-15-2015, 07:49 AM   #14
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ON most boats the reefer is the biggest energy user.

The simplest fuel pill is the 20# propane tank that will run a modern unit for over a month.

Then only the entertainment system becomes the power hog , unless you like to read.
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Old 01-15-2015, 08:30 AM   #15
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I'm not a big fan of running propane plumbing through out the boat. Too much chance of an undetected leak with dire consequences.
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Old 01-15-2015, 10:28 AM   #16
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Acumentrics has a fuel cell that looks about the right size, I think;
http://www.acumentrics.com/pdf-nopub..._datasheet.pdf

I'm at the bottom of the learning curve on this stuff. Do the following guestimates sound right? (Assuming the set turn off point is 100%, everything is "perfect", there are no loads on the system, and there is no wind or solar being generated)

The 12 volt DC output of the Acumentrics RP250P-LITE is 20 amps, and the fuel consumption is .04 gallons per hour. If the unit turned on at a 50% discharge of our 450 amp hour battery bank, it would have to put back 225 amp hours to bring them back to fully charged. At 20 amps, this would take approximately 11 hours, correct?

Now, if the propane consumption rate is .04 gallons per hour, and a 20 pound propane tank holds 5 gallons of propane, wouldn't there be approximately 125 hours of operating time on a 20 pound tank?

Finally, if these numbers are true, wouldn't the RP250P-LITE be capable of recharging our house bank from a 50% discharge to fully charged 11 times? (Trying to get the numbers squared away, for comparison purposes.)

If these numbers are correct, and one could go two days (as an example) without charging the batteries, then even without solar or wind adding to the system you could stay 3 weeks at anchor without firing up the main engine, right?

Bear with me...this is where it gets interesting...

Lets say filling a 20lb propane tank costs $20.00, this means (assuming the guesitmates above are correct) it costs about $1.80 each time the fuel cell charges the batteries.

Our Yanmar 4JH2-UTE 100hp engine burns 1.2 gallons pre hour on average, so let's assume it would burn 1 gallon per hour at anchor charging the batteries. With the 80 amp alternator (guestimate alert!) running below full capacity and adding wiggle room for squeezing in that last bit to top off the batteries slowly, it might take 7 hours to fully charge the bank. (Not real world, but just for initial comparison purposes).

That means each charging cycle with the engine, at $1.25 per litre ($4.75 per gallon) would cost $33.25

So, $1.80 vs $33.25 begs the question...how much does this fuel cell cost, and would it kick in enough times during its life to justify the cost, or, even if it does end up costing more, does the **wow, that's so quiet and ulta-modern cool** offset the additional cost?

Are my numbers even close??? This may be tedious for some, but pretty interesting for me
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Old 01-15-2015, 11:10 AM   #17
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Greetings,
Mr. MM. Promising technology (fuel cells in general) but like a lot of "new" technology, not quite developed enough to become "everyman's" energy source IMO.
These guys have been at it for over 35 years and they're not really mainstream yet. (again IMO). Ballard Power Systems - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Similar to the electric car/boat, battery technology works great in the lab but has not progressed to the point of reliably and economically replacing dino juice.
Energy storage density just isn't there yet.
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Old 01-15-2015, 03:30 PM   #18
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Yup, you're right I guess, RT...but how would one know for sure without crunching the numbers?

I got an answer back from Acumentrics and he said my estimated numbers were close, but the cost of the above fuel cell was around 20K. Industrial users get tax credits which take a bit of the sting out of that, but it could take a while (?) for the price to come down as the technology advances.

Now...I'm off to find another rabbit hole of investigation to explore
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Old 01-15-2015, 03:30 PM   #19
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MurrayM:

Your analysis makes a lot of assumptions favorable to the fuel cell case but all of your assumptions penalize the propulsion engine case.

Does the nominal 12V output of the fuel cell follow a three step algorithm, ie does the voltage go up to 14 V as the batteries get charged? I doubt it. So it will take forever to charge to even 90%. The only way around this is to invert the 12V and feed it to a three step shore power charger at about 50% overall efficiency. And your fuel cell charging will probably take 25% longer due to Peukert's factor. So to be liberal, ie favorable just double your numbers.

Your propulsion engine charging won't take anywhere near 1 gph, maybe 1/2 gph at worst. Your Hitachi internally regulated alternator is a poor charging source. Use a high ouput Balmar or similar with a Balmar three step regulator and it will start charging at 100 amps and probably wind up at 50 amps when it gets 90% full. Forget the last 10%.

So the propulsion engine case will take 3-4 hours to charge to 90% and require about 1.5-2.0 gallons of diesel. At $4.75/gal (Caribbean prices today) it will cost $9.50. Your fuel cell will require $3.60. But the real number will be more like $6.00 because if you have to pay $4.75 per gallon for diesel, it will take $40 to fill your propane tank in the Caribbean.

So the adjusted fuel comparison is getting close. A more real comparison is running a 5KW genset to recharge your batteries using a decent sized inverter/charger with a 150 amp charger. That will probably recharge your batteries to 90% in 2-3 hours and use 1/4 gallon per hour to run the much smaller genset engine. I'll bet that case beats the fuel cell in fuel cost.

Certainly the genset costs a lot and I wouldn't do it unless I had one or needed it for other stuff like airconditioning. But what does that fuel cell cost?

David
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Old 01-15-2015, 07:03 PM   #20
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Thank you David, et al, for your pearls of wisdom. It was with great risk of both scorn and ridicule that I journeyed to your mountain top for enlightenment.

My quest continues...
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