From Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH): “Charging stations can combine hydrogen production and energy storage”

From Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH)

30.08.21
Clara Marc

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EPFL scientists have developed a new system that addresses two top priorities of the energy transition: clean hydrogen production and large-scale energy storage. Their technology could be particularly useful in transportation applications.

The need for reliable renewable energy is growing fast, as countries around the world – including Switzerland – step up their efforts to fight climate change, find alternatives to fossil fuels and reach the energy-transition targets set by their governments. But renewable energy can’t be incorporated into power grids efficiently until there is a way to store it on a large scale.

“Most forms of renewable energy are dependent on weather conditions, which results in large fluctuations in the power they supply,” says Danick Reynard, a PhD student at EPFL’s Laboratory of Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry (LEPA). “But power grids aren’t designed to manage these kinds of fluctuations.” Hydrogen, because it can supply energy consistently regardless of the weather, is now attracting growing attention.

LEPA scientists have been working for several years on the dual challenges of clean hydrogen production and energy storage. They have just unveiled a new system that combines a conventional redox flow battery – currently one of the most promising methods for large-scale stationary energy storage – with catalytic reactors that produce clean hydrogen from the fluid running through the battery. The LEPA system is just as efficient as conventional ones but offers greater flexibility and energy storage capacity. It also produces clean hydrogen at a lower cost. The scientists’ research appears in Cell Reports Physical Science.

Redox flow batteries hold the most promise for energy storage

Redox flow batteries consist of two tanks separated by an electrochemical cell. Two highly conductive electrolyte fluids – one with a positive charge, one with a negative charge – circulate through the tanks and past the cell to trigger a chemical reaction where electrons are exchanged. These batteries store energy in electrochemical form, just like the lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones, but with a much longer lifetime and with flexible energy generation and storage capabilities, meaning they can respond quickly to fluctuations in power supply and demand.

To create their system, the LEPA scientists took a conventional redox flow battery and enhanced it by adding two catalytic reactors. These reactors produce hydrogen from the fluid circulating through the tanks. “The hydrogen is made through a catalytic process that uses energy from the battery to split water molecules into their two components, hydrogen and oxygen,” says Reynard. “But this hydrogen can be considered clean only if the energy used to charge the batteries is renewable.”

Clean, pure hydrogen with enhanced and flexible storage capacity

LEPA’s technology offers several advantages for both hydrogen production and energy storage. With conventional redox flow batteries, once they’re fully charged, they can’t store any more energy. “However, in our system, once the battery is fully charged, it can discharge fluid into the external reactors. They in turn generate hydrogen that can be stored and used later, freeing up storage space in the battery itself,” says Reynard.

The hydrogen produced by the LEPA system is pure and only needs to be dried and compressed for optimal storage. That system is also safer than conventional ones, because it generates the oxygen and hydrogen separately rather than simultaneously, so there is less risk of an explosion.

The future of charging stations for hydrogen vehicles?

LEPA’s technology could be particularly useful in transportation applications. As more and more drivers adopt electric vehicles, demand for electricity and clean hydrogen will soar. Charging these vehicles puts pressure on power grids and creates spikes in load that are difficult for grid operators to plan for. “According to 2020 data from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the transportation sector accounts for some 33% of the energy consumption in Switzerland,” says Reynard. “Our batteries, in addition to producing hydrogen, could also serve as buffers for smoothing out peaks in that demand.”

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The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] (CH) is a research institute and university in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in natural sciences and engineering. It is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and it has three main missions: education, research and technology transfer.

The QS World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) 14th in the world across all fields in their 2020/2021 ranking, whereas Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) as the world’s 19th best school for Engineering and Technology in 2020.

EPFL(CH) is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland; the sister institution in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zürich [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich)](CH) . Associated with several specialized research institutes, the two universities form the Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) which is directly dependent on the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. In connection with research and teaching activities, EPFL(CH) operates a nuclear reactor CROCUS; a Tokamak Fusion reactor; a Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer; and P3 bio-hazard facilities.

ETH Zürich, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne](CH), and four associated research institutes form the Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) with the aim of collaborating on scientific projects.

The roots of modern-day EPFL(CH) can be traced back to the foundation of a private school under the name École spéciale de Lausanne in 1853 at the initiative of Lois Rivier, a graduate of the École Centrale Paris (FR) and John Gay the then professor and rector of the Académie de Lausanne. At its inception it had only 11 students and the offices was located at Rue du Valentin in Lausanne. In 1869, it became the technical department of the public Académie de Lausanne. When the Académie was reorganised and acquired the status of a university in 1890, the technical faculty changed its name to École d’ingénieurs de l’Université de Lausanne. In 1946, it was renamed the École polytechnique de l’Université de Lausanne (EPUL). In 1969, the EPUL was separated from the rest of the University of Lausanne and became a federal institute under its current name. EPFL(CH), like ETH Zürich(CH), is thus directly controlled by the Swiss federal government. In contrast, all other universities in Switzerland are controlled by their respective cantonal governments. Following the nomination of Patrick Aebischer as president in 2000, EPFL(CH) has started to develop into the field of life sciences. It absorbed the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) in 2008.

In 1946, there were 360 students. In 1969, EPFL(CH) had 1,400 students and 55 professors. In the past two decades the university has grown rapidly and as of 2012 roughly 14,000 people study or work on campus, about 9,300 of these being Bachelor, Master or PhD students. The environment at modern day EPFL(CH) is highly international with the school attracting students and researchers from all over the world. More than 125 countries are represented on the campus and the university has two official languages, French and English.

Organization

EPFL is organised into eight schools, themselves formed of institutes that group research units (laboratories or chairs) around common themes:

School of Basic Sciences (SB, Jan S. Hesthaven)

Institute of Mathematics (MATH, Victor Panaretos)
Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering (ISIC, Emsley Lyndon)
Institute of Physics (IPHYS, Harald Brune)
European Centre of Atomic and Molecular Computations (CECAM, Ignacio Pagonabarraga Mora)
Bernoulli Center (CIB, Nicolas Monod)
Biomedical Imaging Research Center (CIBM, Rolf Gruetter)
Interdisciplinary Center for Electron Microscopy (CIME, Cécile Hébert)
Max Planck-EPFL Centre for Molecular Nanosciences and Technology (CMNT, Thomas Rizzo)
Swiss Plasma Center (SPC, Ambrogio Fasoli)
Laboratory of Astrophysics (LASTRO, Jean-Paul Kneib)

School of Engineering (STI, Ali Sayed)

Institute of Electrical Engineering (IEL, Giovanni De Micheli)
Institute of Mechanical Engineering (IGM, Thomas Gmür)
Institute of Materials (IMX, Michaud Véronique)
Institute of Microengineering (IMT, Olivier Martin)
Institute of Bioengineering (IBI, Matthias Lütolf)

School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC, Claudia R. Binder)

Institute of Architecture (IA, Luca Ortelli)
Civil Engineering Institute (IIC, Eugen Brühwiler)
Institute of Urban and Regional Sciences (INTER, Philippe Thalmann)
Environmental Engineering Institute (IIE, David Andrew Barry)

School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC, James Larus)

Algorithms & Theoretical Computer Science
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Computational Biology
Computer Architecture & Integrated Systems
Data Management & Information Retrieval
Graphics & Vision
Human-Computer Interaction
Information & Communication Theory
Networking
Programming Languages & Formal Methods
Security & Cryptography
Signal & Image Processing
Systems

School of Life Sciences (SV, Gisou van der Goot)

Bachelor-Master Teaching Section in Life Sciences and Technologies (SSV)
Brain Mind Institute (BMI, Carmen Sandi)
Institute of Bioengineering (IBI, Melody Swartz)
Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC, Douglas Hanahan)
Global Health Institute (GHI, Bruno Lemaitre)
Ten Technology Platforms & Core Facilities (PTECH)
Center for Phenogenomics (CPG)
NCCR Synaptic Bases of Mental Diseases (NCCR-SYNAPSY)

College of Management of Technology (CDM)

Swiss Finance Institute at EPFL (CDM-SFI, Damir Filipovic)
Section of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship (CDM-PMTE, Daniel Kuhn)
Institute of Technology and Public Policy (CDM-ITPP, Matthias Finger)
Institute of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship (CDM-MTEI, Ralf Seifert)
Section of Financial Engineering (CDM-IF, Julien Hugonnier)

College of Humanities (CDH, Thomas David)

Human and social sciences teaching program (CDH-SHS, Thomas David)

EPFL Middle East (EME, Dr. Franco Vigliotti)[62]

Section of Energy Management and Sustainability (MES, Prof. Maher Kayal)

In addition to the eight schools there are seven closely related institutions

Swiss Cancer Centre
Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM)
Centre for Advanced Modelling Science (CADMOS)
École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL)
Campus Biotech
Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering
Swiss National Supercomputing Centre