Moving the fuel cell-powered train

MesoFuel, Inc has been awarded a contract by Vehicle Projects LLC of Denver to design and manufacture the hydrogen generator for a fuel cell-powered train locomotive.

MesoFuel, Inc has been awarded a contract by Vehicle Projects LLC of Denver, Colorado to design and manufacture the hydrogen generator for the largest fuel cell-powered vehicle ever built, a 109 metric ton, 1 MW locomotive.

The five-year project was conceived by Vehicle Projects and is scheduled for completion by 2008. Objectives of the project are to develop the fuelcell locomotive by retrofitting an Army diesel-electric locomotive with a fuelcell powerplant; demonstrate the locomotive in a non-military application; and facilitate commercialisation of fuelcell power for rail transportation.

‘We selected MesoFuel to design and manufacture the ammonia-based hydrogen generation system because of the compactness and efficiency of its MesoChannel hydrogen generation systems,’ said Vehicle Projects LLC President Arnold Miller.

‘Three-quarters of all the atoms in ammonia are hydrogen atoms – this liquid is one of the most energy-dense forms of hydrogen available – and so is therefore ideal for the distribution and production of the hydrogen needed for hydrogen fuel cells,’ said MesoFuel CEO Ned Godshall.

‘A key problem that prevents fuel cells from becoming commonplace is the safe, low-cost availability of hydrogen fuel itself,’ added Godshall. ‘We’ve addressed this long-standing challenge by using micro-technology to design the MesoChannel Hydrogen Generator. The result is that we can make large amounts of pure hydrogen relative to its compact size.’

The MesoChannel Hydrogen Generator is at the heart of MesoFuel’s system, which integrates the reactor, heater, and hydrogen separation membrane into a single unit. When combined with a PEM fuel cell, pure hydrogen output produced by the MesoChannel Hydrogen Generator reportedly improve the fuel cell’s efficiency by more than 50%.

Microchannel (meso) devices, like microreactors, are characterised by their use of features, such as arrays of channels or fins, on the order of 10 to 1000 micron range.

‘Some of the drawbacks to microchannel architecture, as may be imagined, are the cost and difficulty in fabricating the small features that are required,’ said Timothy D Foster, Mesofuel’s Product Applications Manager.

‘We have developed MesoChannel architecture that provides features in the 1000 to 5000 micron range which allows us to capture many of the advantages of the smaller microchannels in terms of heat transfer and chemical processing while opening up the opportunities for less costly manufacturing.

‘The primary benefits to the use of features in this size range are that chemical processing rates are greater than would be expected based solely on a linear extrapolation of large-scale reactor performance,’ continued Foster. ‘This greatly increases the throughput per unit volume of the reactor and allows for much smaller overall system volumes.’

‘With proper design, heat and mass transfer rates using MesoChannel microreactors can be orders of magnitude higher than those typically obtained in industrial-scale reactors,’ concluded Foster.

MesoFuel, along with other organisations, will work on the multi-million dollar project in order to produce a complete fuel cell power source that is capable of replacing diesel engines in locomotives.