New Record-Size Fuel Cell System Being Tested

A new utility-scale fuel cell system that could potentially power more than 600 homes and produce one megawatt of electricity, is being tested by FirstEnergy and Ballard Power Systems at the former’s Eastlake plant in Ohio.

The companies claim it is the world’s largest proton exchange membrane hydrogen-powered fuel cell, a 54-foot-long unit mounted on a tractor-trailer to give it mobility. The good news: the device produces only heat and water as by-products. Energy is produced from a combination of hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air.

“Finding new sources of clean, renewable peaking energy is important for meeting our customers’ energy needs and helping us meet increasingly stringent environmental requirements,” said Gary R. Leidich, executive vice president and president of FirstEnergy Generation.

Over the next five years, the system will undergo tests in real-world operating conditions so that the companies can get a better understanding of its capacity to provide generating capacity during peak usage periods between May and September. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will collaborate with the evaluation of the performance and operating data gathered in that period.

“This fuel cell system has the added benefit of being mobile, so it can provide peaking power when and where it’s needed”, said Mr. Leidich.

The system is comprised of nine fuel cell modules, a compressor compartment that provides air for the fuel cell reaction, an inverter compartment that converts the power from 640-volt direct current to 380-volt alternating current (AC), and a transformer to step up the voltage to 480-volt, three-phase AC power to the electrical system.

“With the increasing interest in clean energy solutions, we are seeing demand for this scalable product across a number of different distributed power generation applications” said Michael Goldstein, Ballard’s chief commercial officer.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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2 comments on “New Record-Size Fuel Cell System Being Tested


As far as Fuel Cell standards go, 1MW is reasonably noteworthy – but Utility Scale is a bit of a stretch. THe Ballard release says that it’s 9 fuel cells tied together to produce the 1MW output. You could get 3 UTC Purecell (400kW) units tied together to give you even more output in roughly the same amount of space.

What is important about this announcement – and goes largely unnoticed in the coverage – is the fact that they’re using PEM (or PEFC) technology. Low temperature operation (<100C) and high efficiencies are the benefits of PEM over other technologies like Phosphoric Acid or Solid Oxide. And PEM fuel cells have been working towards direct methanol fuel without any fuel processing equipment – although that's not the case with this unit.

One other omission from the Ballard announcement and press coverage is the fact that the fuel cell is probably not fired directly by hydrogen. And so the emissions figures provided are not accurate. Sure, the fuel cell itself won't produce CO2 – but you can bet that getting that hydrogen into a usable form produced quite a bit of CO2, and CO, and even some NOx.

Most likely, the hydrogen is obtained by sending natural gas (methane, CH4, whatever you want to call it) through a reformer to get the Hydrogen. Well – that process produces just about as much CO2 as regular natural gas combustion in an engine. So, the emissions benefits of a fuel cell over a high-efficiency recip engine are marginal at best.

I may be mistaken by the Methanol still needs to be reformed to make the Hydrgen

for the PEM type system. The use of a mobile system is more interesting to me

for clinics in Africa or in needed places post disaster perhaps like Haiti again

with another huricane on the way.

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