Is it worth investing in a fuel cell such as the Vitovalor? How reliable is the technology? Do I still need my electricity supply? In this section, we have collated the most frequently asked questions and answers about the Vitovalor.
In addition to oxygen, the Vitovalor fuel cell needs hydrogen to operate. Hydrogen is found in almost all substances such as water and natural gas, and is the most frequently occurring element in the universe. However, on the Earth it only occurs in compound form. To be used as an energy source, hydrogen has to be separated from its compound. Natural gas has proven suitable as a source fuel for this. The hydrogen is extracted from the natural gas in an electro-chemical process and at the same time, separated from the other remaining gases. A more detailed description of the process can be found under How the Vitovalor works.
Hydrogen and natural gas have many similar properties. Both can be used for combustion as well as made to explode. We make use of these properties for heating or to drive vehicles or generators, for example. Hydrogen is therefore no more dangerous than natural gas. No hydrogen is stored in the Vitovalor - all hydrogen produced is immediately consumed.
Hydrogen as a potential energy source was discovered more than 100 years ago. In the early 19th century, engineers used it as a lifting gas for airships, amongst other things. Today, hydrogen is still used as a shielding gas in welding. Hydrogen has also proven its worth as an energy source for fuel cells in vehicles and ships without absolutely no complications to date. Fuel cell heating appliances have been used in Japan since 2009 as stationary applications in the living space. Sales have risen to more than 200,000 since this time. In our part of the world too, several hundred fuel cell heating appliances are commissioned every year. This technology has therefore reached a high level of development and is manufactured on a large scale.
Will the rooms then stay cold? The Vitovalor fuel cell consists of two units. All the necessary components for the fuel cell and gas treatment are installed in one of the units. The other unit is a gas condensing boiler with a heating water buffer cylinder (170 litres) and a DHW cylinder (46 litres) for covering peak loads, plus a control unit. The two units are connected by a common gas line and can be commissioned separately. This means that the unit containing the peak load boiler can still be operated without the fuel cell. Were the latter to fail, the integral buffer and DHW cylinder would ensure a bridging time.
The investment costs for the Vitovalor fuel cell are higher than those for standard technology. Nevertheless, due to the high levels of state subsidies and annual energy cost savings of up to 30 percent, the investment is still worthwhile for many users. Thanks to the power it generates, the Vitovalor also makes its owners more independent of rising electricity prices. Further information about investing in a fuel cell heating appliance can be found under Purchasing a Vitovalor.
Operating a fuel cell heating appliance produces up to 40 percent less CO2 compared to conventional, central power generation and decentralised heat generation. This protects the environment and is rewarded by the government with subsidies of up to £6,000. For more information, see Vitovalor subsidies.
The Vitovalor is a "low temperature" fuel cell. To put it more precisely, it is an LT-PEM fuel cell, which stands for low temperature proton exchange membrane. Theoretically, LT-PEM fuel cells can also run on LPG. However, the reformer inside the Vitovalor has been optimised for obtaining hydrogen from natural gas. Operation with LPG is therefore not possible.
With the possibility to generate a maximum of 16.5 kWh of electrical energy it can generate in a day, the Vitovalor can comfortably cover the base load of an average household. In combination with the modular Vitocharge power storage system, which stores power for when it is needed, the power demand can be almost completely covered. Due to peak loads, however, cancelling the electricity supply is not recommended. The peak load takes account of very warm days with a low heat demand or situations where a great deal of power is required within a short time. For example, such situations may arise if the kettle, oven and hairdryer are all needed at once. These appliances may only run for a brief time, but consume a lot of power. Without the availability of the conventional electricity supply, there could be bottlenecks and an impact on convenience at such times.