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The man with the plan

A revolutionary new fuel cell technology currently being patented by UK firm Voller Energy Group, could offer a clever new way of providing power on site.

The emergence of hydrogen reforming technology is one of the most exciting developments that will enable the commercial fuel cell industry.

Fuel cells offer great promise in providing quiet, clean and environmentally-friendly generators and battery chargers.

Although fuel cell technology has been around since 1839, the hydrogen that they require is still not readily available.

Whilst there has been much speculation about the emergence of a Hydrogen Economy, there is still little evidence of the supply of hydrogen being introduced commercially, therefore limiting the widespread take-up of fuel cells.

Hydrogen does not exist naturally and must therefore be manufactured as required or stored.

However, hydrogen is widely available in hydrocarbons such as propane or butane (also called Liquefied Petroleum Gas or ‘LPG�), which are commonly known as camping gas or Calor Gas.

The ‘Holy Grail� for the early commercialisation of fuel cell technology has been the extraction of hydrogen as required from existing fuels such as propane.

LPG is tried and tested, safe and readily available.

In addition, it is easy to liquefy and transport.

Voller Energy believes that a significant step in the transition from today�s Carbon Economy to the Hydrogen Economy of the future is for fuel cells to be able to take the hydrogen that they require from existing fuels.

Up to now this process of extraction or hydrogen reforming has been costly and requires proprietary fuels, for example high purity LPG or de-ionised water which are not widely available.

Voller Energy has made significant progress towards solving these problems by reducing the cost of hydrogen reforming and designing a simple system that will run on these commonly available existing fuels.

Most reformers use a process of steam reforming, combining water in the form of steam with the fuel to produce hydrogen.

Typically these systems require both fuel and de-ionised water otherwise the impurities in the water contaminate the system.

Also the catalysts required in these reformers tend to be proprietary and expensive, relying on precious metals such as platinum and palladium.

Voller Energy acquired KAT-chem shortly after the float in February 2005.

KAT-chem have demonstrated a pyrolyser process to extract hydrogen from propane.

A pyrolyser is a much simpler reforming technology that operates without the need for water or steam, and in Voller�s case, without using expensive catalysts.

In fact a key part of Voller�s IP that is currently the subject of new patent applications, has been the development of the low-cost catalyst which does not require precious metals.

In October 2005, the Company successfully demonstrated in its laboratory a pyrolyser producing 90w of hydrogen equivalent.

The significance of this was that standard Calor Gas propane was used as the input for the experiment.

The purity of the hydrogen produced was extraordinarily high.

This system used this low-cost catalyst technology.

Extracting hydrogen from LPG or propane is complex because of the chemical structure and composition.

Production of a tar like residue needs to be avoided and impurities in the product gas such as sulphur (“S�) and carbon monoxide (“CO�) would harm the sensitive membranes used in fuel cells.

These components have to be cleaned before they can enter the fuel cell.

We are very excited about the developments that we have made with our hydrogen reforming technology.

Few people have understood the depth of our own technology to date.

We believe that this is an important development for the industry and is likely to accelerate the adoption of fuel cells in construction.

LPG is tried and tested, safe and readily available.

In addition, it is easy to liquefy and transport.

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Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020