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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dynamic modeling, experimental evaluation, optimal design and control of integrated fuel cell system and hybrid energy systems for building demands

  • Author(s): Nguyen, Gia Luong Huu
  • Advisor(s): Brouwer, Jack
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

Fuel cells can produce electricity with high efficiency, low pollutants, and low noise. With the advent of fuel cell technologies, fuel cell systems have since been demonstrated as reliable power generators with power outputs from a few watts to a few megawatts. With proper equipment, fuel cell systems can produce heating and cooling, thus increased its overall efficiency. To increase the acceptance from electrical utilities and building owners, fuel cell systems must operate more dynamically and integrate well with renewable energy resources. This research studies the dynamic performance of fuel cells and the integration of fuel cells with other equipment in three levels: (i) the fuel cell stack operating on hydrogen and reformate gases, (ii) the fuel cell system consisting of a fuel reformer, a fuel cell stack, and a heat recovery unit, and (iii) the hybrid energy system consisting of photovoltaic panels, fuel cell system, and energy storage.

In the first part, this research studied the steady-state and dynamic performance of a high temperature PEM fuel cell stack. Collaborators at Aalborg University (Aalborg, Denmark) conducted experiments on a high temperature PEM fuel cell short stack at steady-state and transients. Along with the experimental activities, this research developed a first-principles dynamic model of a fuel cell stack. The dynamic model developed in this research was compared to the experimental results when operating on different reformate concentrations. Finally, the dynamic performance of the fuel cell stack for a rapid increase and rapid decrease in power was evaluated. The dynamic model well predicted the performance of the well-performing cells in the experimental fuel cell stack.

The second part of the research studied the dynamic response of a high temperature PEM fuel cell system consisting of a fuel reformer, a fuel cell stack, and a heat recovery unit with high thermal integration. After verifying the model performance with the obtained experimental data, the research studied the control of airflow to regulate the temperature of reactors within the fuel processor. The dynamic model provided a platform to test the dynamic response for different control gains. With sufficient sensing and appropriate control, a rapid response to maintain the temperature of the reactor despite an increase in power was possible.

The third part of the research studied the use of a fuel cell in conjunction with photovoltaic panels, and energy storage to provide electricity for buildings. This research developed an optimization framework to determine the size of each device in the hybrid energy system to satisfy the electrical demands of buildings and yield the lowest cost. The advantage of having the fuel cell with photovoltaic and energy storage was the ability to operate the fuel cell at baseload at night, thus reducing the need for large battery systems to shift the solar power produced in the day to the night. In addition, the dispatchability of the fuel cell provided an extra degree of freedom necessary for unforeseen disturbances. An operation framework based on model predictive control showed that the method is suitable for optimizing the dispatch of the hybrid energy system.

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