Fuel-cells for RVs
Fuel-cells for RVs provide electricity cleanly and silently. Their high price is still hindering acceptance. That may change as new types are developed. Most use hydrogen derived indirectly from methanol. They charge batteries – enabling them to provide far higher short-term power than the fuel-cell can instantly supply.
Efoy fuel-cell in a camper trailer. Pic: SFC.
Fuel-cells for RVs – how fuel-cells work
Fuel-cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy without burning the fuel. Instead, they use cells that contain anodes and cathodes plus an electrolyte solution. Electrons flow from anode to the cathode. As they do so, they produce electrical direct current (DC). A so-called catalyst oxidise the fuel. That fuel is typically hydrogen. It is currently derived from hydrogen-rich methanol. The only emissions are a little ultra-pure water and minor heat. There is also a very small amount of CO2. Hydrogen, however, be obtained indirectly from solar modules. It is done by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel-cell then also acts much like a battery. It is, however, totally non-toxic.
Fuel-cells for RVs – brief history
The fuel-cell was invented in 1839. The concept, however, was not pursued until the early 1950s. NASA then produced them. They were used as ultra-reliable power sources for space missions. A later market was covert military and other surveillance. For that, a fuel-cell’s silent operation is invaluable.
The very first fuel-cell (for boats and RVs) surfaced in August 2004. It was developed by the Smart Fuel Cell (SFC) company and named the EFOY. There are three models. All use methanol fuel. Outputs are from 80 to 210 amp hours a day. They are usually used with a small battery bank. This enables them to provide much higher power for short periods, e.g, for a microwave oven. SFC also produce a Pro range for military and other heavy-duty use.
The very first RV fuel-cell. Pic: SFC.
Another fuel-cell is the Hydromax. Developed by Dynad (Netherlands) for boats and RVs, its fuel is malic acid (found in acidic fruit such as apples) and a saline solution dried to powder form. When used it is mixed with fresh water.
Apple-powered! – the Hydromax 150. Pic: Dynad.
Another interesting concept is from Mercedes. The company has produced a hydrogen fuel-cell powered RV that in camp, can also provide sufficient grid power to run heating, air conditioning and a refrigerator.
A very promising fuel-cell was developed by Truma. A huge amount of time and money was invested between 2004 and 2012. The so-called Truma Vega unit finally launched in 2012. It was diesel-powered and worked well. Sadly, its price (plus 12000 Euro) proved far too high for commercial success. Production ceased in early 2014.
Fuel-cells for RVs – the future
There is a huge potential market for this type of fuel-cell. It is needed also to provide power in villages in third-world countries. Most currently run on methanol – but that needs to be of exceptionally high quality. The fuel is priced accordingly. The most probable solution is likely to that solar electricity/hydrogen combination mentioned above.
Fuel-cells for RVs – the risks
The methanol fuel-cells produced so far present no more risk than from any other fossil-based fuel. That fuel is converted into hydrogen within the cell but of such tiny quantity it presents no known risks. The Mercedes concept mentioned above uses hydrogen directly, but not enough is currently known it to comment.
Fuel-cells for RVs – read more
Fuel-cells for RVs are covered in my books Solar That Really Works!, and Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. Digital versions can be purchased from our Book Shop. Print versions can be bought from almost all bookshops in Australia and New Zealand. Also on-line from booktopia.com.au/