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Old 11-24-2017, 10:22 AM   #1
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The fuel cell experiment

I have been contemplating this for years and I finally decided to splurge and I will add a fuel cell to our setup.

Our 25FB has 400W solar on the roof (4 flexible Zamp panels), a Blue Sky 3000i MPPT charge controller, and 200Ah AMSolar Li-battery bank.

The system is in place for almost 2 years now. It works flawlessly; the 1000W stock Airstream inverter is sufficient for our use, even for running our Nespresso machine including the milk frother

The only issue is that when we hit extended cloudy weather periods, are camping in a forest, or in the winter, we use up our battery resources relatively quickly. Running the furnace in cold nights adds more to the load. With 50Ah use and only 15Ah replenishment by the solar system, we are down to 50% of the battery's capacity after 3 days. Our water usually lasts for 8 days, we can stretch it to 10 days before we need to empty the waste water tanks, so the challenge is either to be very conservative with our energy consumption, add more Ah to the battery, or to buy a generator. We cannot go beyond 250Ah in battery capacity without major upgrades to the electrical system.

We are towing with an SUV (Pepper, our 2014 Cayenne Diesel) and after almost 50K miles towing, I am absolutely confident that the Cayenne was the right decision [but this is another thread that needs some updates].

So, a generator (probably a small Honda 1000i @ $800) would be the way to go, but it requires regular maintenance, comes with the smell and the need for fuel, etc. Still, absolutely, the generator would be the fiscally responsible and logic solution. Without a truck, we would still have to figure out how to transport it, it requires effort each time we use it, etc.

As mentioned, I have been playing with the idea of a fuel cell and even started a thread years ago but besides rumors and smartypants comments from people who like the technology but do not find that it is a feasible solution (all kinds of reasons), there was pretty much nothing that was available with respect to first hand experience. I browsed some European boards where fuel cells are being used in RVs and the reviews are perhaps falling into 3 categories:
1) Happy users
2) Unhappy users (mostly people who "froze" their fuel cell in winter times and needed repair)
3) Critical non-users who mainly complain that they are sweet but the costs are prohibitive

Well, here we are. The order for an Efoy 80i fuel cell kit has been placed today! The system incl tax costs 4x as much as an equivalent (I know not comparable really) small generator, so upfront costs are high. The boss agreed to this (my B-day and X-mas present combined) and with the promise that she can run the hair driver from now on...

I plan to post here my first hand experience with the system, which I plan to use during a 14 day boon docking trip over Christmas and New Year.

I ordered the smallest fuel cell that provides 80Ah over 24h when continuously run, which should be ample to "trickle charge" my battery system when the solar panels are just not providing sufficient power. In November, the maximum output of my solar panels was 8A, but the average output of a full day ranged from a minimum of 10Ah (clouds) to 18Ah (sunshine but early sunset because the sun was blocked by a hill). With a use of 50Ah (maxing it out with running "stuff"), I hope that running the Efoy for half a day would be sufficient to get by batteries fully charged each day, continuously.

One cartridge of methanol fuel (10L, 2.64G @ $70) should be sufficient to generate 760Ah, so the costs of replenishing 10Ah will be around $1. Not sure how this compares to a generator (probably lousy and costly). But, we use the system perhaps 8-10 weeks per year, about half of the time the sun will be out. This results in 4-5 weeks (35 days max) of about 20Ah (estimated) = one cartridge per year. Hopefully no other maintenance - the system should be plug and play.

Cartridges are available at iMarine with free shipping (although when I ordered it stated a $40 surcharge for dangerous goods, but it did not show up on the final bill - will see how this works out). I am not sure whether the cartridges can be re-filled with (high quality) methanol from other sources, certainly something that will be discussed in the future.

Ok, this is setting the stage. I will post pictures when the stuff arrives.
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Old 11-24-2017, 10:28 AM   #2
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Cool!

Excited to see a fellow airstreamer be the early adopter of this technology. Please keep us posted. Wishing you luck.

-Adam
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Old 11-24-2017, 12:08 PM   #3
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TV Alternator For Quick Charge of AS Batteries

Quote:
Originally Posted by Knuff View Post
...
The only issue is that when we hit extended cloudy weather periods, are camping in a forest, or in the winter, we use up our battery resources relatively quickly. Running the furnace in cold nights adds more to the load. With 50Ah use and only 15Ah replenishment by the solar system, we are down to 50% of the battery's capacity after 3 days. ...

We are towing with an SUV (Pepper, our 2014 Cayenne Diesel) and after almost 50K miles towing, I am absolutely confident that the Cayenne was the right decision [but this is another thread that needs some updates].
I love the idea of a lightweight, compact fuel cell. But, don't forget that you can charge your AS house batteries directly from your Cayenne alternator using booster cables for a relatively quick charge.
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Old 11-24-2017, 02:03 PM   #4
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So looking at the specs

They state
Methanol is .9L per kilowatt hour

Propane is 91,500 BTU per gallon
Electricity is 3413 BTU per kilowatt hour
26.8 kilowatt hour per gallon of propane
.9L is .238 gallons
So... 6.38 kilowatt hours per .9L

Seems more cost effective to run a propane powered Honda (unless my math is off)
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Old 11-24-2017, 03:44 PM   #5
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Also, my 760Ah per cartridge was off - it is more like 920Ah, which probably means that one cartridge will last > 1 year at about $1.52 per 20Ah charge of the batteries as auxiliary system.

Adventure: Yes, I could use the Cayenne's alternator. My goal though is convenience and also to eliminate the need to pay attention to the car running if I could take the dog for a 2h hike or so...
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Old 11-24-2017, 03:56 PM   #6
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"Seems more cost effective to run a propane powered Honda"

That may well be. The same thing can be said about solar panels. But cost isn't everything (or we'd all be camping in tents). Fuel cells, like solar panels, are silent, have no moving parts, and require little if any maintenance. The silence alone will make the original poster a lot more popular with fellow campers than if they were running a generator.

I'll be interested to see how this experiment turns out. Kudos to Knuff for taking the plunge!
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Old 11-24-2017, 04:01 PM   #7
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So looking at the specs

They state
Methanol is .9L per kilowatt hour

Propane is 91,500 BTU per gallon
Electricity is 3413 BTU per kilowatt hour
26.8 kilowatt hour per gallon of propane
.9L is .238 gallons
So... 6.38 kilowatt hours per .9L

Seems more cost effective to run a propane powered Honda (unless my math is off)
How about the efficiency of each machine to convert their respective fuel to electricity?

An internal combustion engine will be around 20% efficient IIRC. The small generator on the end of the crankshaft will be 80% efficient or so.

The fuel cell has a pretty good efficiency by comparison.
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Old 11-24-2017, 04:43 PM   #8
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Thank you for being willing to take the plunge! My biggest issue with this conversion would be the cartridge price you've listed. I'll be very curious to find out if you discover a way to refill them. If I were to invest in something like this, I'd like to be able to think that I found a way to beat "the system", rather than pay a huge markup for fuel. Even so, it may be worth it for convenience's sake. I tend to get hung up on silly principles.
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Old 11-24-2017, 05:36 PM   #9
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[QUOTE=Paprika; Fuel cells, like solar panels, are silent[/QUOTE]


Well, very quiet but not silent. 25dB v. 53 for a Honda. That’s much quiter, but maybe not enough to use in “ no generator” camp sites.
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Old 11-24-2017, 05:58 PM   #10
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Well, very quiet but not silent. 25dB v. 53 for a Honda. That’s much quiter, but maybe not enough to use in “ no generator” camp sites.
25 dB is part way between a whisper or rustling leaves (15 dB) and a quiet rural area (30 dB).

Sounds like acceptable campground level noise.
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Old 11-24-2017, 06:26 PM   #11
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Old 11-24-2017, 06:41 PM   #12
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looking forward to what your experience is
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Old 11-24-2017, 08:35 PM   #13
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Waved off this thread several times, but had to check in. Evauated the cell option and got turned off by the use of liquid fuel. One more fuel to source and carry. Otherwise it's an interesting idea. Pat
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Old 11-24-2017, 10:52 PM   #14
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Old 11-25-2017, 12:11 AM   #15
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25 dB is part way between a whisper or rustling leaves (15 dB) and a quiet rural area (30 dB).

Sounds like acceptable campground level noise.
It better be quiet because it will be installed under the bed. But even then, we have the option to switch it to stand by or off if we hear it... Probably "we" is not right - it will be my better hearing half to make this assessment

I am in the midst of planning the installation. From what I read, checking the user manual, and looking at some European youTube videos, the whole installation should be straight forward, but placement of parts and the control panel wiring is going to need some thoughts. Ventilation under the bed is no issue. I am actually contemplating to install a water bottle to catch the liquid part of the "exhaust" instead of letting it drip into the belly pan.

By the way, the direct methanol fuel cell technology is not the most efficient one out there, but it is sufficient. And for lugging around fuel - well, one cartridge (a 2.64G canister) once per year is not bad.

The formula that is a lot of fun to think about:
Methanol + oxygen --> water and carbon dioxide & electricity
or formally: 2 H3COH + 3 O2 -> 4 H2O + 2 CO2

Still no shipping information - will have to wait until Monday I guess
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Old 11-25-2017, 12:14 AM   #16
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Looking forward to hearing how it works.

Thanks for posting.
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Old 11-25-2017, 05:43 AM   #17
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Why don't you extend the vent to the outside rather than into the belly pan.(I mean flush with the belly pan) so that all exhaust is to the outside.
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Old 11-25-2017, 06:25 AM   #18
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Another manufacturer would be WATT which will use propane as the fuel. I can’t find a price and it appears they are still in the R&D phase.
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Old 11-25-2017, 06:34 AM   #19
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25 dB is part way between a whisper or rustling leaves (15 dB) and a quiet rural area (30 dB).

Sounds like acceptable campground level noise.
Understood. And since he's mounting it inside it may well be quieter. I just would hate to invest in one, set it up outside and be asked not to use it in a generator free zone.
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Old 11-25-2017, 08:05 AM   #20
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Thanks for sharing information about your installation!
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