Sustainable energy supply as a critical factor for networked digital systems in modern civil protection and disaster management

This year, a group of hackers managed to gain access to a water treatment plant in the US state of Florida and chemically manipulate water. The population escaped with a scare once again. In addition, it was revealed that the cause of the power outage in Mumbai on October 12, 2020, may have been a cyberattack on the servers of state-owned power companies.

There are many other incidents to mention, all of which make one thing clear: Protecting critical infrastructures with secure, self-sufficient energy has long since ceased to be a purely political issue; it is a basic requirement in the face of such societal threats to societies in the 21st century. This development also affects modern, digitized civil protection and disaster management. An easy, quiet and highly efficient way to meet this increased power demand and ensure a diesel-independent (back-up) power supply are energy solutions with fuel cells by SFC Energy based on methanol or hydrogen. Due to their design and efficient operation, they can support the existing and future electronic systems of the BOS and ensure their independence.

EFOY Hydrogen energy solution by SFC Energy

Current emergency power solutions rely almost exclusively on generators and battery solutions with limited range. Fuel cell systems are a sensible alternative here. They are not intended as a replacement for batteries, but as a supplement. Batteries have the advantage of high peak current capability, but the decisive disadvantage of limited capacity, which can be excellently compensated by combining them with fuel cells. In addition to increased self-sufficiency, cost savings are another important benefit of fuel cells. To maintain the power supply with batteries, expensive primary batteries often have to be procured or secondary batteries recharged at a corresponding expense. In addition to material, logistics and disposal costs, this leads to additional costs for chargers, generators, fuel and accessories, which are significantly reduced by the use of fuel cells.

Fuel cells charge batteries fully automatically. The system is started and put back into standby when the battery is charged. As a result, users not only always have full energy reserves, the batteries also last much longer, as the continuous charging protects them from harmful deep discharge. No matter what the application: Fuel cells in fully integrated weatherproof solutions are ready for use within minutes and provide power for days without user intervention.

The BOS radio network in all its various facets serves as an example of off-grid backup and emergency power supply for (semi-)stationary systems. In the event of a prolonged power outage, state and local governments must ensure critical systems are backed up for at least 7 days. SFC’s hydrogen fuel cell solutions (EFOY Hydrogen) are already being used in the energy hardening of the BOS digital radio network.

These same benefits become more apparent when considering portable power generation. Small, lightweight and flexible power supply solutions with fuel cells can save up to 80 percent of the battery weight to be carried. With regard to the increasing “portable energy demand” by mobile situation maps, GPS trackers, drones or multifunctional handhelds, etc., especially the weight reduction forms a “game changer” for the BOS. It allows for a longer mission duration and increases the safety of the forces. As digitization continues to advance, BOS forces must be able to operate quickly and efficiently on the ground in exceptional scenarios and disaster situations, but also in everyday threat situations. For these reasons, modern systems require an alternative power supply with far better characteristics in order to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by digitization.

Energy system consisting of fuel cell and battery storage by AXSOL GmbH and SFC Energy AG

The integration in government vehicles and unmanned platforms is an illustrative example. The IT modernization of many vehicles has resulted in a significant increase in energy requirements. The technology operated in and on the vehicle, such as special signaling systems, specific lighting equipment and communication technology, require a reliable 12 V or 24 V power supply. The on-board power supply with energy from the alternator has extremely poor efficiency with high diesel consumption. Furthermore, wear parts in the vehicle are extremely stressed by idling operation – even when cold – which leads to higher maintenance costs. In idle mode, operating fuel consumption is a factor of 20 higher than in fuel cell operation. Space is also extremely valuable in government vehicles, so power sources must be lightweight, compact and small.

Integration of the fuel cell into a crew transporter/first responder vehicle of the Brunnthal fire department

When the engine is running, some of the electricity generated is consumed directly, and when there is free capacity, the vehicle battery is charged. Thus, when fuel cells are operated, the removable capacity of the installed battery group increases with a mostly low discharge current. An on-board power supply solely from batteries is only suitable to a limited extent due to the limitation of the possible runtime, as the batteries will otherwise be deeply discharged. However, battery conservation and an extension of the life cycle through deep discharge protection – especially in winter – are important factors with regard to overall social trends such as “sustainability” and “digitalization”. In addition to power generators, one or more power storage units are also required for on-board power supply. A reduction in vehicle weight by saving on additional batteries is thus another advantage offered by the integration of fuel cells on board. Methanol as an energy source thus makes a decisive contribution to environmental protection, resource conservation and sustainable energy management. As mentioned, fuel cells are not intended to replace batteries, but to complement them. Depending on the mode of operation, the consumers are subject to different usage. BOS operations therefore require an energy concept designed for the individual case or operation. SFC is working with promising partners to combine battery and fuel cell technology and integrate them into highly efficient, fail-safe system solutions. While the power storage systems (“sprinters”) provide maximum flexibility, the EFOY fuel cell (“marathon runners”) is used as an environmentally friendly, powerful and continuous energy source in numerous applications. The fuel cells replace or substitute generators as a source of residual load, while battery storage systems serve to temporarily store the energy from the fuel cells and can be optimally tailored to the application requirements.

Furthermore, DMFCs reduce the local dependency on fossil energy sources due to the savings potential, which have to be used elsewhere especially in the case of a corresponding shortage. Thus, in the event of a fuel supply shortage, operations must be prioritized accordingly. Differentiation of fuel logistics – especially with regard to the number and operation of emergency power systems – is thus an important component in modern concepts for civil protection and disaster management.

Due to the on-demand power generation of the overall fuel cell-battery system, considerable savings with regard to fuel, material conservation, etc. can be achieved compared to a conventional solution. Compared to diesel generators, fuel cells are virtually maintenance-free, easy to operate and just as durable. In addition to simplifying operating and fuel logistics, fuel cells, unlike diesel generators, are easy to spend and can be used anywhere, anytime. This results in greater flexibility in terms of energy self-sufficiency. In addition to the significant reduction in CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions, particulate emissions can be completely avoided.


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