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Fuel-cell solution lowers operating costs using nanostructured catalysts

By Scott Jenkins |

fuel cellThe two main barriers to widespread use of fuel cells have been securing a reliable source of hydrogen that avoids CO2 emissions, and cost — they have traditionally depended on expensive platinum and palladium catalyst materials. GenCell Energy Ltd. (Petach Tikvah, Israel; has introduced an off-grid fuel-cell power-generation system that addresses these challenges. The GenCell A5 is a fuel cell with a low-cost catalyst coupled with an on-demand system for generating hydrogen gas from anhydrous ammonia, a widely accessible industrial chemical.

Designed to replace diesel generators in remote and off-grid areas, the A5 first converts ammonia into a mixture of 75% hydrogen and 25% nitrogen using a patented catalyst material with unique surface nanostructure. The hydrogen is then combined with oxygen from ambient air within an alkaline fuel cell, where electricity is produced.

“Most low-temperature fuel cells are based on acidic chemistry,” says GenCell CEO Rami Reshef, “but we have developed a new nanostructured catalyst for promoting the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen that has a precisely defined chemical formula, including carbon and nickel, as well as carefully controlled nanoscale structure that avoids the need for Pt- and Pd-based catalysts.”

As a result, the A5 is able to generate electric power without CO2 emissions (and other pollutants) and to do so at operating costs that are as low as 50% of those for diesel generators, Reshef points out. Fuel for the A5 is delivered as a 12-ton tank of anhydrous ammonia, which supplies enough hydrogen for the fuel cell for one year of continued operation.

In tests conducted by GenCell, the A5 fuel cell performance matches the performance of conventional fuel cells with platinum catalysts, Reshef says. The company is currently producing the novel catalyst materials at production scale, and has recently delivered commercial models of the A5.

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