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Neah Power Systems pitching on-board formic acid reforming for automotive hydrogen fuel cell applications

9 June 2014

Neah Power Systems, Inc. is in preliminary discussions with a fuel cell company to license formic acid reforming technology for certain grid scale applications, and is also identifying appropriate automotive partners for the technology, opening up new Served Available Markets (SAM) that are very significant, according to CEO Chris D’Couto. The company recently published a white paper discussing its patent pending technology.

Formic acid, which is a common preservative and antibacterial agent and is produced naturally in ants and bees, is also is an energy-dense storage medium for hydrogen, with theoretical gravimetric energy density of 1,700 Wh/kg. Already a commodity chemical, formic acid is a raw material for a variety of products, and is available at low cost in bulk quantities from a variety of suppliers. Formic acid is also considered a carbon neutral, renewable energy source, and can also be obtained by aqueous catalytic partial oxidation of wet biomass.

When formic acid is heated it produces carbon dioxide and water, and upon exposure to catalysts, formic acid decomposes to hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Although it must be handled safely, unlike more traditional fuels, such as gasoline, formic acid is not flammable in 85% concentration. The principal danger from formic acid is from skin or eye contact with concentrated liquid or vapors.

Neah presently offers four sizes of reformers for hydrogen fuel cells in 5W, 10W, 50W, and 100W configurations for demonstration purposes. The reformer system is designed to provide a sufficient amount of hydrogen to a fuel cell system that uses hydrogen gas as a fuel. The fuel tank is adjustable to the energy, or run-time required. Other power ranges and form factors can be made available in customized configurations as well, the company said.

Neah’s reformers use twin pumps: one pump supplies the proper amount of formic acid for H2 production as reformate, while the other supplies fuel to the catalytic burner to provide a continuous heat supply to the reformer, through a heat exchanger.

After exiting the heat exchanger, the reformate is mixed with a small amount of air and passed through a preferential oxidation (PrOx) reactor to remove trace carbon monoxide (CO) content to less than 1ppm. The reformate is then passed to a fuel cell stack to produce electric power, with anode off-gases being vented to the atmosphere. The air supply for the catalytic burner is provided by a small blower.

The hydrogen produced can then be used by a variety of fuel cell types – solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), proton exchange membrane (PEM), etc. for either grid scale power or automotive power.

Neah
Capabilities of Neah’s demonstration reformers. Source: Neah Power. Click to enlarge.

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