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Estonian start-up signs contract with European Space Agency to develop closed cathode hydrogen fuel cells for lunar and Mars exploration missions

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Estonian cleantech start-up PowerUP Energy Technologies has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a 1kW liquid-cooled closed cathode hydrogen fuel cell stack which will be used on Lunar cargo ships (Lunar nights survival) and potentially also on rovers. Normally fuel cells are open cathode, however, due to lack of oxygen on the moon and Mars, closed cathode fuel cells are used. Robotic rovers are then usually remotely controlled and carry a payload of scientific instruments with the goal of performing experimental investigation over a distributed area of the surface of the astronomical object. This kind of design has found particular relevance regarding moon and Mars exploration. 

There have been several research and development activities on regenerative PEM fuel cell systems for space applications in the past decade. These studies have targetted mainly two kinds of applications: commercial applications and more particularly large telecommunication platforms and science applications, with planetary exploration missions. 

Talking about the collaboration, CEO of PowerUP Energy Technologies, Dr. Ivar Kruusenberg said: “Usually fuel cells are open cathode. This means that they take oxygen from the surrounding air, but in the case of Mars and Moon missions, there is no oxygen. To tackle this, with the help of ESA we will develop a 1kW closed cathode hydrogen fuel cells stack that could work in such space missions. This stack would serve as an additional energy source that will be integrated with solar panels and batteries. In cases where the solar panels could not be used to charge the batteries such as during nighttime, that is when our stack will come into play. I believe fuel cell systems have a great potential in space missions to the Moon or to Mars, particularly to power supply robotic rovers and cargo ships, such as in the current case. We are extremely excited to be developing this under the European Space Agency’s guidance.”

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One of the major goals of this project is to reduce the complexity of fuel cell systems and substitute ancillary systems with non-moving parts. While the first prototype of the stack is expected to be completed by 2023, the project has already kicked off this month. 

About PowerUP Energy Technologies

PowerUP Energy Technologies is an Estonian cleantech start-up that produces best-in-class hydrogen fuel cell-based electric generators and proton exchange membrane fuel cells. PowerUP’s technology is based on their co-founders’ 15 years of scientific research in the field of fuel cells and energy technologies. Their generators have diverse use cases in industries such as marine, telecommunication, military, construction, hospitals, off-grid homes, and rescue forces to name a few. UP® product range is sustainable since it only emits water vapour, compact and lightweight, operates silently and requires minimal maintenance. Their first commercial product 400W portable generator and they are soon launching 200W, 1kW and 6kW generators. PowerUP Energy Technologies serves as a sustainable alternative to power generation in today’s world and helps its users in various industries to reach the global net-zero targets. 

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Estonia

Estonia to lead the way in oxygen production on Mars in close cooperation with the European Space Agency

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The European Space Agency (ESA) and National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB) in Estonia have signed a partnership agreement for investigating the electrochemical splitting of CO2 for carbon and oxygen production in Mars conditions. The agreement comes at an exciting time where the race for human exploration of Mars has been so far split between the world leading superpowers. Estonia, with its 1.3 million population, is also getting into the Mars game now.

Estonian scientists led by the Energy Technologies Laboratory of the NICPB have proposed a study for developing a reactor technology where CO2 is electrochemically split into solid carbon and gaseous oxygen, which are then separated and stored. The technology used for this process is molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET) where the CO2 molecule is broken up via a carbonate salt electrolyte. On Mars, it could be a solution to two problems: energy storage and oxygen production. Even more since the conditions are perfect as the atmosphere of Mars consists over 95% of carbon dioxide with only about 0.1% oxygen.

ESA and NICPB have agreed to put their respective competence and  facilities at each other’s disposal for the purpose of testing the viability of MSCC-ET for usage on Mars and developing a reactor that could work as both an energy storage and oxygen generation device. "It will provide a great opportunity for Estonian scientists to contribute to European space research and interact with space industry experts to take the next step in inhabitating the Red Planet," said the head of Estonian Space Office Madis Võõras.

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In order to actively support the research ESA has agreed to co-fund a Post-Doc Study of Dr Sander Ratso, who will be carrying out his research over the course of 24 months in the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in Tallinn, and the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. "It is clear that oxygen generation and energy storage are completely new use cases for this proposed method and there are many unknowns that we are going to face," mentioned Ratso. "However, we might be on the verge of a great scientific discovery for the humankind," he continued.

Dr Ratso has defended his PhD thesis on carbon catalysts for fuel cell cathodes. He has received multiple honours and scholarships for his outstanding work in studying electrochemical systems. Ratso is also the co-founder of an Estonian based startup UPCatalyst, which produces sustainable carbon nanomaterials from CO2 and waste biomass for a vast range of applications ranging from biomedicine to battery technologies.

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Recovery and Resilience Facility: Estonia submits official recovery and resilience plan

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The Commission has received an official recovery and resilience plan from Estonia. This plan sets out the reforms and public investment projects that Estonia plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU, the EU's plan for emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide up to €672.5 billion to support investments and reforms (in 2018 prices). This breaks down into grants worth a total of €312.5bn and €360bn in loans. The RRF will play a crucial role in helping Europe emerge stronger from the crisis and securing the green and digital transitions. The presentation of the plan follows intensive dialogue between the Commission and the Estonian authorities over the past number of months.

The Commission will now assess Estonia's plan based on the eleven criteria set out in the Regulation and translate their contents into legally binding acts. The Commission has now received 24 recovery and resilience plans from Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Ireland, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden. It will continue to engage intensively with the remaining member states to help them deliver high quality plans.

A press release and a Q&A are available online.

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SURE: Commission welcomes Council decision to approve €230 million to Estonia

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The European Commission welcomes the Council's decision to approve its proposal to provide €230 million in financial assistance to Estonia under the SURE instrument. This support will assist Estonia in covering the costs related to its short-time work scheme, other similar measures, and some health-related measures that have been introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council has now approved a total of €90.6 billion in financial assistance to 19 Member States, based on proposals from the Commission. SURE is a crucial element of the EU's comprehensive strategy to protect jobs and workers, and mitigate the severely negative socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. The Commission has already disbursed €62.5bn to 16 Member States under SURE, and it expects to undertake most of the remaining borrowing operations in the first half of 2021.

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