Photo: Bax Lindhardt

13 years’ detective work resulted in doctorate

Monday 12 Mar 18


Anke Hagen
DTU Energy
+45 46 77 58 84
As one of the very few, Anke Hagen has conducted research into ceramic fuel cells which are an efficient means to produce power and use fuels from renewable energy sources.

When Denmark talks about the green conversion, it does not mean getting rid of all fossil fuel infrastructure in one fell swoop and migrating to new sources of fuel such as hydrogen from one day to the next. In January, Anke Hagen, Head of Section at DTU Energy, defended her doctoral dissertation on ceramic fuel cells, which is one of the solutions that can be used both now and in the future without the need for fossil fuels.

During her defence, she explained how for 13 years she had studied technological fuel cells under different temperatures and gas compositions, conducting research into what happens in the approximately 60 key, micrometre-thick layers inside the fuel cells. This makes her one of the first researchers to have gained an understanding of the interaction between the chemical properties and structures on a microscale.

"The ground-breaking aspect of my dissertation is that I have worked at the heart of the technology and employed new, untraditional methods."
Anke Hagen, Head of Section, DTU Energy

“The ground-breaking aspect of my dissertation is that I have worked at the heart of the technology and employed new, untraditional methods. This has given me important knowledge about what is happening in the fuel cell layer—all the way down to micro level,” says Anke Hagen.

“My research has provided me with a basic understanding of how SOFC (solid oxide fuel cells) materials and their structures interact. This knowledge is crucial to determining how well the technology works, particularly with regard to performance and durability—key parameters in the application of fuel cells in a future energy system.

In some ways, Anke Hagen and her research are reminiscent of a detective trying to solve a mystery. While the detective uses monitoring, GPS and a magnifying glass, Anke Hagen has, among other things, turned to electrochemistry, data analysis, and microscopy to find a logical explanation to the often conflicting research findings.

Photo: Joachim Rode

SOFC fuel cells—Anke Hagen’s chosen field of study—differ from the more traditional low-temperature fuel cells in that they can be used in combination with various fuels such as methane, hydrogen, and hydrocarbons, thus paving the way for biogas and natural gas. Furthermore, the specific fuel cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy and heating with very high efficiency, enabling them to produce more power than CHP plants.

“Commercial products containing these fuel cells are beginning to appear in the market. Japan experienced a power shortage following the closure of nuclear power stations in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. This has probably led some customers to buy an SOFC-based microforce heating unit, which is hooked up to the natural gas grid in the home to produce heat and electricity. In the USA, major companies such as Google and NASA buy power from SOFCs rather than from the often unstable grid,” says Anke Hagen.

Her hope is that the technology can also be developed for the transport sector to produce electricity for lorries and ships—or even to power vehicles.