Newswise – Ural Federal University (UrFU, Russia) professors Sergey Shcheklein and Aleksey Dubinin have developed technology to generate power for an electric car engine using methanol. An article describing the technology was published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.
“We pour methanol into the fuel tank. An air converter, which converts methanol into a gas mixture, is installed directly inside the vehicle. A mixture or syngas, composed of hydrogen and monoxide of carbon, forms in a small volume, which is necessary for the current operation of an electric vehicle engine, ”said Sergey Shcheklein, head of the department of nuclear power plants and renewable energy sources at UrFU.
The synthesis gas powers an electrochemical generator based on a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). Hydrogen is oxidized in the SOFC anode, the energy of this chemical reaction is converted into electrical energy. Carbon monoxide enters a separate combustion chamber, where it is oxidized by air with the release of thermal energy. Thermal energy is used to vaporize methanol and heat the catalyst involved in converting methanol into a gas mixture. The residual carbon dioxide emissions are insignificant.
Methanol is a non-explosive substance, the simplest alcohol, its production is not expensive: methanol can be obtained from any organic resource, including plant biomass and solid household waste. At the same time, the electrical efficiency of a power plant with SOFC is more than 42%, which corresponds to the level of the most promising internal combustion engines. For comparison: the efficiency, that is, the energy conversion efficiency of liquid and gaseous fuels into mechanical energy, of diesel engines is 25%, for gasoline engines – about 20 %.
Sergey Shcheklein and Aleksey Dubinin came up with the idea of using methanol after analyzing more than 220 experiments. Scientists have tried to obtain synthesis gas from various natural hydrocarbons: coal, gas, petroleum products. The development using methanol has proven to be technologically simple, with minimal energy consumption and energy losses, and high efficiency.
“In other words, less fuel and oxidizer are needed to produce a unit of energy compared to existing internal combustion engines. As a result, less air is consumed in the atmosphere, much less product of combustion, such as carbon dioxide and potentially lethal nitrogen dioxide, are formed, ”said Sergey Shcheklein.
In addition, methanol is suitable for another task that UrFU scientists solve – using nuclear power sources for the production of “raw materials” for SOFCs.
The conversion of hydrocarbon fuels into gas mixtures requires high temperatures, which modern light water nuclear reactors cannot provide; their thermodynamic potential is almost half of it. At the same time, obtaining methanol from methane using modern nuclear reactors (such as fast neutron reactors) is not only possible, but also the most energy efficient way.
The methanol processing technology offered by Sergey Shcheklein and Alexey Dubinin is also suitable for the energy and metallurgy industries. This work is part of the five-year project “Thermodynamic analysis of the use of hydrogen for metallurgical and energy engineering companies”, which was carried out as part of a state mission of the Ministry of Science and ‘Higher Education of the Russian Federation.
According to scientists, given the current level of oil and gas consumption, these energy sources will be sufficient for mankind for the next 60 years. At the same time, the development of new sources of fossil fuels leads to the degradation of production areas, including the Arctic, to the melting of permafrost and the release of colossal volumes of methane. This increases the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer. The problem is that the emissions of hydrocarbon combustion products pollute the environment.
One of the alternative methods of generating electricity is the use of solid oxide fuel cells. SOFCs are environmentally friendly devices with high efficiency, up to 70% and higher, in which chemical energy is converted into electricity.
Solid oxide fuel cells run on hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most abundant element, its reserves are inexhaustible and it is respectful of the environment. The use of hydrogen in conjunction with electrochemical generators opens up great prospects for the creation of electric transport, increasing the energy efficiency and environmental safety of vehicles of all sizes. In this case, the emissions of harmful substances have values of zero or tens and hundreds of times lower.
However, it is quite difficult to get pure hydrogen because it easily goes into chemical reactions. In addition, hydrogen is characterized by high fluidity, large specific volume in gaseous form, high potential explosion risk and requires complex technologies for storage and transport. At the same time, the existing hydrogen production processes are energy intensive and require large amounts of electrical energy. Its traditional source consists of power plants that run on coal, gas and oil. Thus, the benefits of using hydrogen are drastically reduced and large-scale application of hydrogen technologies in transport is not yet possible. However, the prospects of producing hydrogen to obtain atomic and hydraulic energy, all types of renewable energy sources have the opportunity to eliminate these disadvantages and realize all the advantages of fuel hydrogen from the 21st century.