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The fitted button cell test section

Through optimization of fermenting conditions, a biogas can be produced which is suitable for fuel cell conversion at minimum extra treatment

Build-up of a single cell test section

Containment vessel for pressurized single cell MCFC tests

Years of laboratory experience have led to customized development of a fully automated, remote plant control and data-acquisition programme

To test newly developed materials, first an 18 mm diameter button cell is characterized. Here we see a cathode soaked in electrolyte, a γ-LiAlO2 electrolyte tile and a nickel anode, two steel current collectors, the alumina containment crucible and two gold reference electrodes inside alumina tubes.

The waste-to-energy system principle studied at ENEA

High-Temperature Fuel Cells
High-temperature fuel cells (HTFC), in particular the Molten Carbonate (MCFC) and Solid Oxide fuel cells (SOFC), operate typically at temperatures of over 600°C. High-temperature operation improves a fuel cell’s catalytic activity and resistance to impurities, so that it is not necessary to operate on pure hydrogen, but light hydrocarbon fuels like methane can also be converted. Thus, conventional and non-conventional fuels from fossil and renewable sources can be used to produce electricity and heat at ultra-high efficiency (45+% electrical), even at small-scale.

In order to benefit from these high-potential features, research at ENEA is aimed towards the improvement of performance and durability of MCFCs and SOFCs in application-specific conditions. In particular the fuelling of MCFCs with syngas from biomass gasification and with biogas from anaerobic digestion of organic refuse flows is studied. These fuels are renewable and CO2-neutral, but are characterised by conspicuous contents of contaminants which are harmful to HTFC operation.

The objective in this activity is pursued at different levels of the integrated system: abatement of contaminant yield in the fuel reactors, development of catalysts for HTFC-specific gas clean-up, control of critical process conditions and development of more resistant and performing fuel cell materials. More than twenty years’ experience have brought ENEA laboratories to a high level of expertise in anode and cathode development, manufacture and lab-scale characterization.

ENEA labs are equipped with several rigs for performance testing of short stacks, single cells and new materials based on electrical, chemical and physical analysis in-situ (polarization, impedance spectroscopy, gas analysis) and ex-situ (conductivity measurements, morphological, thermo-gravimetric and energy dispersive X-ray analysis).

At ENEA, cell materials are improved for specific conditions. Here an XRD scan shows how Ceria species are dispersed in an anode cross-section to act as getter material for harmful sulphurous compounds in the fuel gas

Working in close collaboration with the major Italian industries in the field (Ansaldo Fuel Cells for MCFC technology and SOFCPower for SOFC applications), ENEA provides fundamental support to the advancement of HTFC technology in general as well as to the impact of Italian industry on the European and global market. Active in several national and EU-funded projects on the topic, ENEA believes strongly in the potential of HTFCs to contribute towards a new generation of heat and power supply and distribution for tomorrow’s energy infrastructure.

Currently active projects:
MCFC-CONTEX: Influence of contaminants on MCFC performance and their extraction
CERSE: Anaerobic digestion of organic waste flows, biogas utilisation in MCFC and prototype development
FCTESQA: Testing and validation of pre-normative fuel cell test procedures
EFESO: Characterization of SOFC stacks for micro-CHP, material development for SOFC
FC-GUIDE: Life Cycle Assessment of fuel cell and hydrogen systems
FC-EUROGRID: Performance of fuel cells in the European energy supply grids

Characterization of biogas clean-up and reforming catalysts