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Combined heat and power (CHP) systems based on fuel cells offer high efficiency, low emission, and decentralised power and heat supply for buildings and industries. They can operate from the existing natural gas distribution network, using a reformer to convert methane gas to hydrogen thus minimizing infrastructure requirements.
There is considerable interest in installing CHP systems in domestic properties, called micro-CHP or dCHP (domestic CHP), and for large scale applications such as community heating or industries. Globally, pre-commercial projects have already been initiated for the implementation of dCHP systems on the larger scale.
A combination of low-temperature reforming with a high-temperature PEMFC (120°C – 180°C) opens a unique perspective in thermal management for both domestic (up to 10kW) and industrial (up to 150kW) CHP systems, with a total efficiency yield of primary energy above 80%. The high temperature operation of the PEMFCs tolerates higher impurity levels in fuel, and thereby simplifies the reforming system (fuel cell and reformer synergy).
PEMFCs depend critically on PGMs to catalyse the fuel and oxidant to produce electricity and heat. Also, PGMs are essential to achieve low-temperature reforming and thereby to improve the efficiency of CHP systems. South Africa, with its vast PGM resources can benefit immensely from the development of CHP systems by adding huge value to SA resources and improved socio-economics through local manufacturing, increased job opportunities and skilled human resource development.
The main purpose of the R&D programme on CHP is to develop internationally competitive and marketable CHP-systems and critical CHP-system components.