GenCell A5 update: hydrogen power from ammonia fuel cells (“The Next Big Thing in Energy Production”)

By Trevor Brown on July 18, 2019

GenCell Energy, an Israeli technology company, recently announced a research collaboration with Fraunhofer UMSICHT, a German research institute, that will deliver a “scale-up of the catalyst synthesis process” for cracking ammonia. This will enable GenCell “to produce large quantities of a novel inexpensive catalyst for generation of hydrogen from ammonia.”

As we reported last year, GenCell is demonstrating its ammonia-fed alkaline fuel cell technology for its first commercial customer, replacing 800 diesel gensets and providing “ultrareliable” off-grid power for telecom base stations across Kenya.

This week, the company released a marketing video that “illustrates the chemistry behind the magic by which GenCell Energy leverages ordinary ammonia to efficiently deliver hydrogen to energize virtually any off-grid application.”

With the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy accelerating rapidly, there is a growing need for new, clean methods for long-range transmission and long-term storage of green energy. Ammonia meets both needs … it is a highly efficient liquid carrier of hydrogen that can be safely and readily transported.

Generating energy by extracting hydrogen from ammonia, our A5 fuel cells are a game-changing breakthrough technology that economically delivers green energy anywhere.
GenCell Energy video, Ammonia: The Next Big Thing in Energy Production, 07/14/19

GenCell has already developed its “novel, efficient catalyst for ammonia decomposition” with its partners at the University of Duisburg-Essen. This next part of the research project is about “scale-up and shaping of catalysts:”

In the framework of the joint project, the “Materials and Catalysis” working group at the University of Duisburg-Essen has successfully synthesized and tested a novel, efficient catalyst for ammonia decomposition in the laboratory. The next step will involve a practical test of the catalyst under real operating conditions.

For the practical test, the Fraunhofer UMSICHT will carry out a scale-up of the catalyst synthesis process in order to subsequently produce shaped catalyst. “The scale-up of the catalyst synthesis is carried out in a temperature-controlled 20-liter vessel, which makes it possible to produce the catalyst on a larger scale,” explains Heiko Lohmann from the Department of Chemical Energy Storage at Fraunhofer UMSICHT.
Fuel Cell Works, GenCell Energy and Fraunhofer UMSICHT Collaborate on Catalyst Synthesis Joint Project, 05/02/2019

Fraunhofer UMSICHT (the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology) is one of 72 Fraunhofer institutes across Germany. I have written previously about one of its sister institutes, Fraunhofer IMWS (the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems), which is working with fertilizer producer OCP to build a solar ammonia pilot plant in Morocco.

Ammonia is a carbon-free molecule but, today, ammonia is made from fossil fuels and leaves a heavy carbon footprint. Using ammonia as a fuel today, therefore, may have limited environmental benefit. In the future, however, when green ammonia is available, the environmental benefit of using this fuel will be far greater.

In the interim, technologies like GenCell’s A5 act as a bridge. Today, the ammonia fuel cell works economically, offering a lower total cost of ownership in its niche market by taking advantage of ammonia’s energy density and global availability. GenCell’s A5 demonstrates the technological and commercial readiness of the ammonia fuel cell but it also demonstrates demand for green ammonia fuel. In the future, when the supply chain is complete and industrial-scale versions of OCP’s solar ammonia pilot plant sell their product into energy markets, the ammonia fuel cell can work environmentally also, providing truly emission-free power.