Using biodiesel as well as regular diesel in a fuel cell is for many an incredible idea. The Research Council of Norway’s RENERGI program Technical Director Dag Øvrebø is developing a new type of electric power supply unit with core components of a smart diesel reformer and a tolerant fuel cell. The system is environmentally friendly and flexible; the unit could be a serious contender in the market for generators in electric vehicles and other applications.

The combination of two advanced technologies is now undergoing testing.  In trials, a 200-watt solid-acid fuel cell ran on both pure hydrogen and on hydrogen produced from diesel by the unit’s reformer – with only an insignificant difference in performance.  The system is another handy way to solve the hydrogen production and storage issue as well as keep consumers access to abundant fuels used at very high efficiencies.

Diesel is a hydrocarbon thus CO2 is an issue.  The reformer section converts the hydrocarbons into hydrogen, CO2 and heat. Due to the unit’s high efficiency, CO2 emissions are substantially lower than in conventional combustion engines, and no other demonstrable exhaust is discharged – meaning that diesel particulates, black carbon soot, nitrous oxide (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) are eliminated. An added plus is that the reformer emits no smoke or odor.  And, it’s dead silent.

The silent electric generator is being developed and produced by the Norwegian company Nordic Power Systems (NPS). The new type of fuel cell is being developed and delivered from the California firm SAFCell. The development of solid-based acid fuel cells (SAFC) was pioneered in the Haile Lab of the Material Science Department at Caltech.  Dr. Calum Chisholm, together with a team of experienced scientists, engineers, and business executives founded SAFCell to bring the technology to the market in November of 2009.  Things are moving very fast – it not been a year yet and the prototype field test units are being built.

The story runs back in time, beginning in Germany.  In 2006 the NPS founders came across an interesting conversion technology developed at RWTH Aachen University in the late 1990s. NPS acquired the licensing rights, envisioning a clear market potential for an electric power supply unit based on a fuel cell that is not dependent on hydrogen filling stations, and that can run on regular, easily available fuel without surrendering the environmental benefits of fuel cells.

Nordic Power Systems Process Technology Flow Graphic. Click image for the largest view.

Then in 2009 NPS secured usage rights to the new U.S. solid-acid fuel cell technology for use with various fuel types such as diesel and biofuels.

Tor-Geir Engebretsen, Managing Director and co-founder of NPS, is very pleased with the summer of 2010’s tests. “Now we have demonstrated that the solid-acid technology works. The next step is to test a larger unit of 1- 200 watts.”

Now it gets really interesting – Engebretsen points out that since the technology is scalable, it is well suited for future generators in electric vehicles. But NPS is taking the development in stages. The company’s first market is power supply for the defense industry.  NPS has secured a technology development agreement with the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces. In addition, NPS has a product development agreement with Marshall Land Systems, of the U.K., with the aim of supplying silent-running generators for the British Armed Forces.  While the U.S. Department of Defense isn’t involved, one can be certain they’re watching.

If all goes according to plan, the reformer unit being developed with Marshall Land Systems will be ready for market launch by mid-2011, while the solid-acid fuel cell will be phased in somewhat later. An assembly plant in Høyanger, Norway, is scheduled to open in early 2012 with Industrial Development Corporation of Norway (SIVA) as the contractor.

NPS currently has seven employees in Norway, and six in the USA through a contract with SAFCell in California.

Getting from the oily diesel to a fuel cell hydrogen intake is a challenge.  The evaporation of diesel is the most challenging step in a diesel reformer. The NPS cool flame reformer uses a new, unique concept for evaporating and mixing the diesel with air and steam. Avoiding inhomogeneous mixtures of air and steam, partial evaporation of the diesel, or a total ignition in the evaporation stage, are critical to the stability and functionality of the materials and catalysts applied.

In the first week of August, 2010, SAFCell delivered a 250 watt stack to NPS’ testing facility in Porsgrunn, Norway. The SAFC stack was integrated and tested with NPS’ proprietary cool flame diesel reformer system, converting the chemical energy of the diesel fuel directly into electrical power.

Solid-acid fuel cells utilize an anhydrous, nonpolymeric proton-conducting electrolyte that can operate at slightly elevated temperatures.  Supporting thin CsH2PO4 electrolyte membranes at about 25-36 µm on porous stainless steel gas-diffusion electrodes, SAFCs can attain peak power densities as high as 415 mW/cm2.

Solid Acid Based Fuel Cell Schematic Diagram. Click image for the largest view.

While the current state of the development is proprietary, earlier study claims were high at 0.91-1.01 V. Those results transformed SAFCs from laboratory curiosities into highly competitive energy conversion devices.  With six years of research and development now invested its no surprise that the SAFC is about ready for field tests.

The impact of a fuel cell generator that could fill up at most any station using likely the full range of middle distillates from kerosene to jet to #2 diesel – plus a wide range of bio products is an intriguing idea that’s just loaded with potential.  A full study vehicle with a reformer-SAFC system, some storage and electric drive propulsion yielding some efficiency numbers would be fascinating.  Plus the reformer-SAFC system yields heat solving a major electric drive problem and technology developments are offering better heat energy recovery all the time.

The Norwegians and Californians deserve some applause. This is looking more like widely adoptable technology with each step.


11 Comments so far

  1. The Newest Most Versatile Fuel Cell System Runs on Diesel | New … | Today Headlines on October 15, 2010 3:19 AM

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  3. Giichi Itoh (FuelCell japan) on October 19, 2010 11:48 AM

    This is a very interesting FC technology.

    The features of the NPS’s FC technology:
    1) Solid acid fuel cell and 2) Cool flame reformer
    With regard to 1):
    Some technologies on solid proton conductors operable in the mid temperature range (300–500 C) have been developed.
    Please read
    ”Big Step toward Realization of Micro SOFCs for Small Electronics Devices”
    I know other proton conductors of the same type.
    With regard to 2):
    I hear that the reformer capable reforming petroleum into hydrogen has already been used in practical stage.
    The petroleum is available at any oil stations.

  4. JimW on October 20, 2010 9:00 AM

    very good, now take it to the next step. Run the FC on non carbon Everyone can make their own fuel and we free ourselves from BigOil and their pollutions forever.

  5. Giichi Itoh (FuelCell japan) on October 26, 2010 8:05 PM

    Eliminating the need of the hydrogen infrastructure, if realized, will encourage the development of fuel cell vehicles and accelerate the spread of them. I hope that the solid acid fuel cell as the mid-temperature fuel cell will be commercialized as soon as possible. The mid-temperature fuel cells have many merits.

  6. Website Designing on November 5, 2010 9:42 AM

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  7. financial aid for college on November 8, 2010 8:10 AM

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  8. Giichi Itoh (FuelCell japan) on November 14, 2010 7:16 AM

    Also in the all-solid-state lithium ion battery as the next generation lithium ion battery, which is in the development stage worldwide, how to increase the ion conductivity of the solid electrolyte of the battery to a satisfactory level is the biggest technological problem.
    AIST and TOYOTA started to cooperate to develop the all-solid-state lithium ion battery, and succeeded in manufacturing a trial product of the all-solid-state thin-film lithium ion battery.
    This battery is free from the problems of the liquid electrolyte leakage, dangerous explosion, etc., which inevitably and possibly occur in the current lithium ion batteries of the liquid electrolyte type.
    I am writing an article about this new battery, and going to put it on my site/blog in early this week. If any question, feel free to contact us.

  9. Giichi Itoh (FuelCell japan) on January 14, 2011 11:32 PM

    In the PEFC and SOFC fields, it seems that much development efforts are directed to on the technologies to stably operate those types of the fuel cells at the intermediate temperatures in practical levels.

    The fuel cell that Nordic Power Systems uses operates at temperatures higher than 100 Celsius degree, the limit operating temperature of the PEFC.
    SiEnergy Systems, LLC (USA) has fabricated a prototype of the micro-SOFC, which operates at 300 Celsius degree.

    In connection with this, the lab team led by Prof. Yuichi Shimakawa (Kyoto University) discovered the fact that the oxygen ions anisotropically diffuse in the solid oxide at 300 Celsius degree or lower. The discovery shows that the perovskite-structure oxide exhibits the oxygen ion conductivity in the intermediate temperature region. The discovery is a big discovery when considering the current development trend to operate the fuel cells at the intermediate temperatures. The news on the discovery was released at about this time of the last year. I have carelessly forgotten to refer to the discovery news in my related articles although I wanted to do so. The technical paper describing the discovery was posted to the journal Nature Chemistry and was published on its online version.

    Nature Chemistry:
    My site:

  10. small concrete mixer on September 10, 2017 10:03 PM

    Great information! It is very useful for those people work in this field. Thank you!

  11. Beston on July 1, 2021 10:32 PM

    Useful article. Energy is important for us.

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