Below are some of the most frequent questions related to fuel cells – their origin, purpose, use, pros and cons.

A fuel cell is a device that produces electricity through electrochemical conversion reactions. Hydrogen and oxygen are converted directly into electricity, water and heat in the process. Compared to an engine, there are no moving parts, hence reduced mechanical wear, vibrations and noises. Compared to a battery, a fuel cell does not require a recharging cycle, as long as the gasses needed for electricity production are continuously added and as long as fuel is available.

Christian Friedrich Schoenbein, a German-Swiss chemist, invented the fuel cell in 1838. Almost simultaneously, in 1839, a Welsh scientist, William Robert Grove, developed the “gas voltaic battery”. The functional fuel cell was born. Since then, the world has changed, and fuel cells are an important technology in land, sea, air and space applications.

We make High Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cells. HT-PEM fuel cells are similar to LT-PEM fuel cells, but operate at higher temperatures (150-180 degrees Celsius). Our fuel cell units are integrated with fuel reformers.

Methanol is an excellent liquid energy carrier, and it is stored and transported using conventional methods. Therefore, methanol can be an excellent solution for storing energy from renewable sources like solar and wind power. Compared to other liquid fuels, the methanol steam reforming process operates at low temperatures, which avoids unnecessary loss of energy. Also, methanol can be produced in clean, efficient CO2-reduced ways from either biomass or various Power-to-Liquid or Power-to-X technologies.

The exhaust from a methanol fuel cell system is hot air and CO2. When using green methanol, hydrogen is produced from renewable sources like wind or solar power and the CO2 for the methanol is captured from the air or from industrial production.

A single fuel cell consists of a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) and two flow plates distributing the feed gasses correctly onto the fuel cell electrode. A single fuel cell typically has an operational voltage below 1V. In order to obtain practical voltages, the fuel cells are stacked, effectively series connecting cells to an assembly; a fuel cell stack. The scalability of the stacks makes it possible to customize and modularize them.

Both fuel cells and batteries utilize electrochemical reactions to produce electricity. However, upon discharge, batteries are changing the state of their electrodes, depleting the amount of electric capacity they can deliver; requiring a charging cycle to reset the state of the battery or a discard. Fuel cells can continuously produce electricity as long as they are supplied with fuel. Keep the fuel cell fueled, and you keep the electricity coming.

Advent Technologies A/S uses High Temperature PEM systems (HT-PEM). But there are also various other types of fuel cells based on different technologies. Here’s a selection of the most significant fuel cell technologies.

Low Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC)
Operating Temperature: Around 50-100 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 40-60%

PEMFCs operate at a relatively low temperature, have high power density, and can vary output quickly to meet shifts in power demand. In applications where quick start-up is required, such as automobility, PEMFCs are well-suited. PEMFCs can be scaled from several watts to several kilowatts and into larger systems. They’re fuelled with hydrogen gas, methanol or reformed gas. PEMFCs can be applied for a variety of commercial applications within telecommunication, data centres and residential markets, to auxiliaries.

High Temperature PEM (HT-PEM):
Operating temperature: 100-200 degrees Celsius. Advent’s fuel cells operate at 150-180 degrees Celsius.
Electrical Efficiency: 40-60%

HT-PEM fuel cells are similar to LT-PEM fuel cells but operate at higher temperatures. HT-PEM are often integrated with fuel reformers, thus allowing a wider variety of fuel quality. HT-PEM fuel cells are ideal for commercial use, e.g. as range extenders for electric or hybrid vehicles. System cooling and heat rejection is often more convenient due to the higher operating temperatures.

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)
Operating temperature: 60-130 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: Up to 40 %

DMFCs are also PEM fuel cells, but instead of being fuelled by a gas, they are fuelled directly by a methanol/water mixture. There are some advantages by direct utilization of the liquid fuel, for example the possibility of using passive supply of fuel or air, avoiding balance-of-plant power losses, and also using the fuel flow stream as a cooling system. Typical drawbacks are inherently low efficiencies requiring very large cooling surfaces, hence making them mostly relevant in the low power range.

Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC)
Operating Temperature: Around 23-70 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 60-70 %

AFCs were some of the first fuel cells developed and were used on space missions in the 1960s to provide both drinking water and electricity. AFCs are easily poisoned by small quantities of CO2, for which reason they’re primarily employed in controlled aerospace and underwater environments.

Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cell (PAFC)
Operating Temperature: Around 150-200 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 36-42 %

PAFCs utilize the great proton conductive abilities of phosphoric acid and can also operate using reformed hydrocarbon fuels or biogas. They’re considered the “first generation” of modern fuel cells and the first type to be used commercially. The PAFCs are usually used for stationary power generation but can also be used for large vehicles.

Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell (MCFC)
Operating Temperature: Around 650 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 50-60 %

Due to the high temperature levels at which MCFCs operate, methane and other light hydrocarbons in these fuels are converted to hydrogen within the fuel cell itself. The primary disadvantage of MCFCs is durability. MCFCs are ideal for large stationary power and CHP applications, and are available as commercial products.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC)
Operating Temperature: Around 1,000 degrees Celsius
Electrical Efficiency: 50-60 %

The high temperature allows the SOFC to reform fuel internally. However, the significantly high temperature results in a slow start-up process and requires significant thermal shielding to retain heat and protect personnel, which might be acceptable for utility applications, but not for transportation. SOFCs are best suitable for large stationary applications.

Fuel cells are used in many ways. In the 1960s, fuel cells were used for space travel, and since the 1990s, fuel cells have been developed for commercial and industrial purposes. Fuel cells are used as auxiliary power units (APU), for stationary backup power, as primary traction power or as range extenders for electric vehicles, and for distributed power generation, e.g., on boats, ships, trains or in smaller hubs and microgrids. Finally small consumer electronic applications exist where fuel cells power mobile phones, laptops, hearings aids, etc.

Fuel cell systems are ideal for remote locations and in telecommunications as they have a high degree of reliability, excellent part load characteristics and high efficiency.

Fuel cells are renewable if the fuel used is a renewable energy source. When fueled by green methanol, fuel cells must be regarded as renewable energy as it is CO2 reduced.

Compared to gasoline and diesel, methanol is harder to ignite, it burns slower, it creates no black smoke, and it emits lower radiant energy, which makes surrounding materials less likely to catch fire.

Furthermore, our fuel cell solutions are fueled by a methanol mix of 60% methanol and 40% water, thus making the fuel less flammable than pure methanol.

Methanol, however, is flammable and has the potential to react violently with oxygen – just like gasoline, diesel and natural gas. Therefore, it is paramount to implement correct safety features and infrastructure.

For these reasons, we put a lot of effort into manufacturing safe fuel cell solutions.

We comply with all international safety standards and do everything to make sure that our customers are aware of the right way to handle methanol.

Currently, we don’t offer fuel cells for residential consumer use. Our systems are available for industrial, governmental and business use.

You can find the current selling price of methanol on the official Methanex index.

Our fuel cell systems can be installed from scratch in less than a day. In case of system failure or repairs, a unit can be replaced in less than 15 minutes.

It takes less than 15 minutes to replace a fuel cell unit. Replacement of normal consumable spare parts takes around an hour.