Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences

Emission-free energy through hydrogen fuel cells - The power and heat generation of tomorrow

How can electrical energy be provided as emission-free as possible precisely when it is actually needed? This is one of the technical challenges that the Institute for Technical Energy Systems (ITES) at Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences is working on. The answer could be found in the development of the "hydrogen economy".

From the outside, the fuel cell looks quite inconspicuous: A compact square unit that is supplied with hydrogen and air via a pipe system. On one side, hoses lead the hydrogen in, on the other, electrical lines exit. These then deliver the electricity produced by the cell to a consumer. Inside, however, things are happening: hydrogen and oxygen react with each other, producing electricity and heat. However, this happens without a flame. This is referred to as "cold combustion".
(Fig. 1).

Key element for regenerative technologies

If you compare the process with electricity production by burning fossil fuels, it has two main advantages: Firstly, only non-toxic water vapour is produced as a waste product. Secondly, the energy chemically bound in the hydrogen is directly converted into electrical energy in the fuel cell - fuel cell drives therefore have a higher efficiency than combustion engines.

But fuel cell technology also has a decisive advantage over regenerative methods: hydrogen can be stored and converted into electricity exactly when it is needed. The technology thus has enormous potential when it comes to building an intelligent power grid, also known as a smart grid, because: The share of electricity produced by fuel cells can be ramped up or down according to demand. Strong fluctuations in the grid could be balanced out by fuel cell power plants according to demand.

Young talent for a promising occupational field

For all of this to happen smoothly, however, engineers are needed who understand the technology in detail. Teachers, researchers and students in the laboratory for electrical energy storage and fuel cells at the UAS therefore focus on the question of how the cells can be used and controlled as efficiently as possible. An electronic load simulates the power consumption at each laboratory workstation so that the performance and dynamics of the fuel cell can be measured under different loads. 

Model projects in Bielefeld and OWL

As part of the "HyLand - Hydrogen Regions in Germany" project, the city of Bielefeld and two neighboring districts are to be developed into a model region for hydrogen use in the mobility sector. Bielefeld already uses hydrogen buses for local public transport. The Institute for Technical Energy Systems (ITES) at the University of Applied Sciences accompanies and advises the city in this project as a research partner. In addition, ITES is not only focusing on the topic of mobility, but is also analyzing what other areas of application there might be for hydrogen in Bielefeld.