Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a way for people to generate their own power at home. The team created a ceramic fuel cell that uses natural gas to generate electricity and heat.
Fuel cells provide the ability to produce as much electricity and heat as your home needs. This method is much more efficient than traditional power plants or generator technology. A fuel cell can take the energy source, which would be the natural gas, and breaks it down using steam reforming. The source then becomes a hydrogen-rich gas. "Then oxygen ions undergo electrochemical oxidation with the hydrogen atoms at the anode to produce electricity with very little loss," explains an article about the technology on Extreme Tech.
By using ceramic as the anode for the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), the engineers were able to cut costs. However, this comes at a price -- the SOFCs produce much more heat than cells made using proton exchange membrane fuel (PEMFC). Ten times more, to be exact. The developers say the cell can double as a home's furnace.
The final product is about the size of a regular furnace, but it is able to produce heat and power. The actual fuel cell is about the size of a stack of CDs.
The Fraunhofer institute is working with Vaillant, a heater manufacturer, to design a test version of the final product that can be mounted on a wall. They have installed several of these wall-mounted units into homes to better evaluate its performance. They are planning tests in a total of 150 homes this year.