The first unit in the world capable of producing electricity from formic acid is already a reality. The device created hand in hand by the École Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL) and by the GRT Group company is not only viable and sustainable, but also stands out in terms of results. With an electrical efficiency of up to 45%, the innovation is powerful enough to recharge 200 mobile phones simultaneously.
In the environment of 800 watts, it has been estimated, in fact, the nominal power of this device that can produce 7,000 kWh per year. The muscle of the system, in addition to its own viability, something unprecedented until now, is key at a time when the need for chemical conversion of CO2 into useful products “grows in importance as the levels of this gas increase in the atmosphere due to of the action of man ” . It is supported by Gabor Laurenczy, leader of the work team that has shaped a unit that, precisely, uses a hydrogen carrier (formic acid), which is produced in a sustainable way through the use of CO2.
The simplest combination of all those that exist of CO2 and hydrogen, the formic acid that is already widely used in industries such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals or agriculture, is now aligned with that of renewable energies. Guarantees are not lacking. With the capacity to carry up to 590 liters of hydrogen per liter of acid, this liquid perfectly supplements the classic deficiencies of hydrogen in terms of storage and transport. “It is easy to store, transport and handle, as well as being produced from sustainable sources,” they explain from the EPFL on acid.
With all this in mind, experts have designed a device that allows hydrogen to be extracted from formic acid. The two main parts of the system play in favor of this. On the one hand, it has been equipped with what they have dubbed HYFORM. This section of the equipment in which a ruthenium catalyst is used is the one that allows the hydrogen to be extracted. Along with it, a PEMFC-type fuel cell has also been created in which the reaction necessary to generate electricity is operated.
The strengths of both sides, beyond the results described, are varied. The proton exchange membrane cell is quiet, in addition to producing gas cleanly, without emissions and without particles or nitrogen oxides. “It is completely eco-friendly and enables long-term renewable energy storage,” underline the drivers of the integrated unit.
HYFORM is not short on advantages either, which, they stand out, does not require major treatments and, at the same time, can maintain the performance of the catalyst also for long periods. Another important point that could give a boost to this proposal is that this technology is scalable. With this, it is suitable for both domestic use and industrial use. A further strength, which broadens the base of potential beneficiaries, is that the system does not require connection to the network. “It just needs to be fed with formic acid . ” With this argument, the unit could fit as a solution for energy storage and for the production of electricity from clean sources in inaccessible and remote areas.
The achievement therefore addresses several of the classic problems of the use of hydrogen, and broadens the future prospects of an element seen by many as the quintessential option for the storage and production of electricity and heat. To advance in this direction, the work of these experts continues, now with the development of new catalysts that allow the replacement of ruthenium with cheaper materials that, thus, improve the cost effectiveness of this unique system.