In the next issue, Fuel Cell Power will review the latest developments at the international conference and exhibition entitled Hydrogen and Fuel Cells for Clean Cities. Companies producing low carbon energy technologies from around the world met potential users at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK. The local regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, has announced that a third hydrogen fuelling station is being installed in the area, which will be part of the ‘Midlands Hydrogen Ring’ of fuelling facilities that will form the heart of the planned UK hydrogen fuelling infrastructure. Sandy Taylor, from Birmingham City Council, said that Birmingham and the Midlands were at the forefront of the first industrial revolution and they are now taking the lead in the UK with clean energy and car production. He was extremely impressed by the investment in the hydrogen infrastructure in the USA and said that it is beginning here in the UK, with initiatives by his own and several other Regional Development Agencies.

Efficient and secure energy

From China, Prof Wang of the Ningbo Institute announced their commercialization plans for cheaper SOFC systems up to 100kW over the next three years and their progress with fuel cell cars and buses. India is preparing for a million hydrogen powered vehicles and 1,000MW of distributed power by 2020, explained Dr R Basu of the Indian Glass and Ceramic Institute.

Smart Grids

A major theme of the conference was the role of Smart Grids powered by renewable and distributed energy, with gas turbines and hydrogen used to balance the electricity load. Prof Jack Brouwer of the National Fuel Cell Research Centre (NFCRC) in California outlined the problems of the grid as more intermittent renewable energy is installed. There are growing demands for peak energy, greenhouse gases and other pollutants must be reduced and energy security is paramount. The limitations of the present grid are centralized control, slow response time and one way power flow. The Smart Grid will have to deal with multiple points of connection and with electricity for charging electric vehicles. The NFCRC is monitoring data from wind farms and gas turbines used to provide back up, as well as a Gensys Blue fuel cell from Plug Power.

Hydrogen widely used in industry

During the workshop on hydrogen production, Dr Rupert Gammon of Bryte Energy explained where hydrogen fits in the energy system. There has historically been separation between the heat, power and transport sectors but new energy sources of wind, solar, tidal, wave, nuclear and clean coal will go into the electricity grid before being transferred to other sectors. In addition more electric heating will be supplied by heat pumps.

Smart electrolysis will enable electric vehicles, whether powered by batteries or fuel cells, to help balance the electricity loads. Power sources will be ‘dispatchable’, that is their output will be easily turned up or down to meet requirements. Gas industry representatives outlined the current status of hydrogen as an ultra clean gas, widely used for industrial processes, which has great potential as a clean, secure energy source.

Feed in Tariffs (FIT)

The introduction in the UK of FIT for fuel cells up to 2kW will greatly assist the utilities installing natural gas powered systems in domestic buildings. However, it discriminates against larger fuel cell systems, which could more easily be powered by renewable energy from waste gases or ‘green’ hydrogen. A supplier of fuel cells said that the UK Government’s exclusion of fuel cells above 2kW from FIT was abysmal, given that they can reduce carbon emissions by 40% when still fuelled by fossil fuels. They are also a “transition” technology and can switch to renewable fuels as they become available in the future, thereby providing stable zero carbon distributed electricity, heating and cooling. It was generally appreciated that if Government support is directed at large renewable electricity projects this would destabilize the grid, but fuel cells operate ‘24/7’.

Electric vehicles

There was debate about the role for electric vehicles. Battery electric vehicles powered by renewable electricity are extremely efficient and will be complemented by fuel cell powered vehicles when longer range or heavier duty is required. Smart meters will ensure efficient distribution of electricity to power battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen can be used on a much greater scale to store intermittent supplies from large wind farms and to smooth out seasonal variations. For smaller scale production, ITM Power has developed an electrolyzer which will produce ‘green’ hydrogen on site from renewable sources, initially for demonstration with small fleets. They are aiming to meet the automotive industry’s target for commercially viable fuel cell car production starting in 2015. Hugo Spowers, the designer of Riversimple’s hydrogen fuel cell car, said that it is not enough for the automotive industry to make incremental changes to existing technologies, but he described his new technical design and business model which will meet the needs of the 21st century.

Start using fuel cells!

Other issues covered by Fuel Cell Power this spring will include the call by US Senator Christopher Dodd to the world’s largest electricity user, the US Government, to purchase and use large volumes of fuel cells. Investment tax credit should also be increased to encourage more private investment and enable the US to put these technologies to use for creating jobs and building a market for clean-tech products. From the Silicon Valley, Bloom Energy claims that their fuel cell technology is going to fundamentally change the world. Thousands of smaller commercial fuel cells are already successfully powering telecom and database centres around the world. There will also be a report from the Tokyo Fuel Cell Expo, which revealed significant technical progress with fuel cells and related technologies during the past year.

Fuel Cell Power, March 2010

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