Scientists at Indias National Chemistry Laboratory have pinpointed a clean, cost-effective fuel cell that can replace the unreliable and pollutive diesel generators that power Indias telecom towers.
The following is an excerpt from Multiphysics Simulation 2017.
By Lexi Carver
Despite significant addition to power generation and transmission capacities in recent years, India still faces an energy deficit of 2.1% and about 20,000 villages are off-grid. Moreover, electricity supply to urban and rural India is still unreliable. As a result, diesel generators are widely used for decentralized power generation. These generators (Figure 1, top), although inexpensive, are inefficient and pose great environmental and health risks.
Figure 1. Top: Diesel generators used to power telecommunications towers in India. Bottom: PEM fuel cell.
This is why the National Chemistry Laboratory (NCL) in India, along with two other labs in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), are investigating cleaner, cost-effective, and more dependable technology for powering telecom towers and eventually buildings.
A promising answer to the cost and pollution conundrum can be found in proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEM fuel cells or PEMFCs, shown in Figure 1, bottom), which are being phased into many applications as replacements for older power technology. Thanks to their small carbon footprints, low decibel levels, fuel compatibility, and excellent complementarity with other renewable energy options, they have potential for use in transportation, residential buildings and offices, and certain industrial sectors. PEM fuel cell systems have an overall efficiency exceeding 30% (compared to 22-25% for diesel generators), and when run on pure hydrogen, their only emission is water vapor.
INSIDE A PEM FUEL CELL
PEM fuel cells contain a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) that comprises gas diffusion layers, electrodes, and polymer electrolyte membrane. Electrochemical reactions that generate power occur inside the MEA.
In a single PEM fuel cell, hydrogen streams to the anode side of the assembly, where it is split into protons and electrons by reactions in the presence of a catalyst. A network o...