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HOTLAB: The HOTLAB (High-temperature fuel cells and electrolysers Operating and Testing Lab)

focuses on what is presumed to be a key device in ensuring high-efficiency, clean utilisation of renewable sources, when and where needed: high-temperature fuel cells and electrolysers (HTFCEs). HOTLAB carries out advanced testing, characterization and evaluation of HTFCE components and systems, making use of cutting-edge experimental approaches and measurement techniques, for the benefit of industries interested in applying HTFC technology and for the advancement of scientific knowledge in the field.

The specific competences of the HOTLAB consist in

  • Electrochemical (accelerated) characterization of HTFCE materials, coatings and components

  • Advanced in-operando characterization of HTFCE (cell and stack) performance through electrochemical impedance spectroscopy deconvolution and localized gas analysis

  • Experimental evaluation of complex fuels synthesis and fuel contaminant effects on HTFCE and long-term durability

  • High temperature electrolysis and co-electrolysis characterization for energy storage at cell, stack and system level (according to IEC Standards 62282-8) that can be integrated with other energy storage infrastructures in ENEA.

MENHIR: The “MEthaNe and Hydrogen Infrastructured with Renewable” RI is an infrastructure dedicated to the study of Power To Gas technologies. Power to X is the process of converting renewable energy electricity into chemical energy carriers like renewable hydrogen or renewable gaseous or liquid hydrocarbons.

The MENHIR plant is a modular, moveable and containerized facility. The facility is composed of two shippable containers equipped with an electrolyser and a methanation unit.

The alkaline type electrolyser is able to produce hydrogen up to 4 Nm3/h (24 kWe), with a working pressure of 12 bar. Electrolyser is also equipped with an additional purification and drying of hydrogen and oxygen unit to meet 99.9999 % hydrogen purity requirement. Since the operating behaviour of the electrolyser could be dynamic, a hydrogen storage equipment is also included. The unit, that basically consists of a containerised hydrogen generating unit, a power rack, a control panel, remote monitoring and interconnection cables, is integrated in the infrastructure and connected with the methanation sections of the plant.

The methanation unit is composed by a tubular fixed bed reactor with different stages of catalytic beds, able to work in cooled or adiabatic conditions. Two refrigerant circuits allow the catalytic beds to be operated at different temperatures. The feed gas is obtained by mixing hydrogen coming from the electrolyser with CO2 from a dedicated tank and/or pure gases from cylinders with the help of mass flow controllers, enabling the emulation of different gas mixtures entering into reactive section. The methanation section was designed to test catalysts, reactors type and process setups aiming to produce a gas up to 1-2 Nm3/h, ready to be potentially injected in the national gas grid (94-96%vol. CH4). Downstream the reactor water is separated in a condenser. The reactor is equipped with K-type thermocouples inserted at different heights, also pressure drop, flow and temperature of inlet and exit gas are controlled and measured.

The experimental plant is equipped with several sensors and a data acquisition system suitable to monitor and control the main operating process parameters. The composition of gas, in each section, is given by online analysis industrial real-time monitoring system that provides useful information to support the management of pilot plant. Each section can be separately tested allowing high flexibility into experimentation. A laboratory for catalysts characterization is available in support of the research activities (BET, TPR, X-Ray and carbon deposition).

The plant is also fully flexible in its modularity, so new hydrogen production system, new reactors or processes, such as the production of liquid fuels (Power To Liquid), can be inserted into the infrastructure using the existing equipment (auxiliaries, control system, instrumentation, gas analysis..). Finally, the plant is suitable to be implemented with other energy storage systems such as batteries to support the electrolyser or thermal storage for heat management of the methanation process. Power-to-Gas (both P2H e P2M) is a promising technology and a possible measure to improve renewable gases use and energy storage (seasonal) w/injection into gas grid based on coupling of power and gas transmission infrastructures, also allowing the decarbonisation of end uses.

Electrolysis and methanation are commercially available technologies, however their implementation in the power to gas technology chain is still being evaluated. Presently, even with commercially available methanation plants, research is considered still necessary to optimize different process features, such as catalysts, reactors type, heat management, temperature control and dynamic operation. The electrolyser dynamic operation remains a challenge, since variable loading and cycling operation can generate substantial performance losses and critical degradation of the constituent materials.

MENHIR thanks to its operating flexibility is able to analyse and perform the development of research activities on all these aspects, in an environment equipped with all the necessary auxiliaries.

HOTLAB: The services offered are the following:

provides HTFCE developers and suppliers with unique characterization protocols for accelerated stress testing, quality assurance in manufacturing, operation in specific and extreme conditions, performance integration with fuel synthesis, pretreatment, storage and transmission technologies for an integrated assessment of HTFCEs as devices for hybridization of energy storage.

MENHIR: The services offered are the following:

  • evaluating the dynamic environment of the individual units and of the integrated system start up, shut-down, stand-by e idle condition (plant able to work at load between 20 % and 100%), • testing different methanation catalysts and intensified reactor,

  • testing different process methanation configuration (e.g. cooled or adiabatic reactor condition); • testing methanation unit performance in different operating conditions of temperature, pressure, inlet flows, typical of the implementation in Power To Gas (start up, shut-down, stand-by e idle),

  • testing of upgrading methodologies (e.g. membranes).

  • evaluating hybrid systems of energy storage

  • training activities aimed at formation of researchers and plant operators

Other services supporting the infrastructure are:

  • Availability of basic services as air, steam, gas, electricity supply

  • Availability of extended online monitoring and data acquisition of all operative plant parameters

  • Availability of gas analysis equipment that will enable users to conduct high quality research

  • Availability of laboratory for catalysts characterization is available in support of the research activities such as:

  • Micromeritics ASAP 2020N – Automatic physiosorption analyser for the evaluation of specific surface area and distribution of the pore in porous solid material

  • Micromeritics Autochem HP micro-reactor for temperature-programmed reduction (TPR), desorption (TPD), oxidation (TPO).

  • LECO TruSpec for carbon deposition.

  • Availability of data treatment and analysis services

A comprehensive user information package provides all the instructions for an effective and efficient access to the infrastructure.

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