Power Electronics

First IEC Fuel Cell Standard

The IEC recently published its first standard for safety and performance of the following types of fuel cell modules: alkaline, proton exchange membrane, phosphoric acid, molten carbonate and solid oxide. The standard covers the minimum safety requirements for modules (not systems) that manufacturers should comply with to produce fuel cells destined for use by consumers. The main thinking behind these requirements covers three aspects:

  • eliminate hazards outside the fuel cell module, when the quantity of fuel and other stored energy (for example, flammable materials, pressurized media, electrical energy, mechanical energy, etc.) in the fuel cell module is released nearly instantaneously
  • passively control (for example, burst disks, release valves, thermal cut-off devices) such forms of energy to ensure a release without endangering the immediate surroundings
  • actively control such forms of energy (for example, by electronic control equipment included in the fuel cell module, which enforces adequate counter-measures based on the evaluation of sensor signals).

Fuel cell technology offers promising perspectives in the area of transport and energy and is seen as having great potential in the near future both in the automotive industry and in the stationary domains of electricity and heat production.

IEC 62282-2: Fuel cell technologies – Part 2: Fuel cell modules gives manufacturers a basic set of safety and performance specifications to start from when designing and fabricating their products. The standard also helps to reduce technical barriers to international trade. Gerhard Filip, senior manager at Project Center PEM Fuel Cells of MTU Friedrichshafen in Germany, and who convened the IEC working group that prepared this standard, says “If national standards are barriers to importing and exporting fuel cells to multiple markets around the world, then this technology will have little or no chance of competing successfully against other, established technologies for power generation. This is why IEC International Standards are so important, particularly for nascent technologies.”

The next steps in developing standards in this field are to spell out additional and specific requirements as they relate to the setting in which fuel cells will be used, such as in vehicles, on ships, in homes and factories, or on aircraft.

Fuel cells are electro-chemical elements that produce electrical energy directly and without combustion from fuel. An electrolyte between two electrodes—anode and cathode—permits the exchange of ions (in other words, an electrical current). An outer electric circuit connects the electrodes, and it is via this circuit that the electricity is made available for use. The main differences in types of cells have to do with electrolytes, the working temperature and, related to those elements, the fuel.

The new standard was prepared by IEC Technical Committee 105 (Fuel cell technologies), which was created in 1998 as a response to industry’s growing interest in this field.

For more information, visit www.iec.ch.

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