Power@Home: Residential Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are almost always mentioned in the context of hydrogen-powered vehicles (like Honda's FCX Clarity), but that's not their only use. Japan has been studying their use for on-site residential production of electricity and heat for a while (a ten-year, ¥18 billion R&D; effort ended in 2002, and more programs and subsidies are in place now).
But what are the benefits of residential fuel cells?
Some residential demonstration fuel cells by Tokyo Gas.
While there are still many downsides, including high costs for now, residential fuel cells - even if the hydrogen is reformed from natural gas - can be very efficient. Some models by Tokyo Gas have a combined efficiency of 87%. Compared to burning natural gas for heat, you get the benefit of also producing electricity, and compared to burning natural gas for electricity in a power plant, you avoid transmission losses by producing the power where you need it. This can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
A recent study commissioned by Ballard Power Systems and Plug Power and independently verified by the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) show that global greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions through the year 2025 from hydrogen and fuel cell technologies could be in the range of 30,000 to 115,000 kilotonnes. The analysis focused on fuel cell applications most likely to achieve near-term commercialization, including residential cogeneration, distributed generation, and backup power systems.
I don't think hydrogen fuel cells will play a big role in the near future, but it's a good idea to keep doing R&D; to lower costs, find new clean ways to produce hydrogen efficiently and store it, conduct real-world tests, etc.
The latest announcement in that vein came from Nippon Oil. It plans to "begin full-scale sales of home-use fuel cell systems in the year ending March 31, 2010". According to Nikkei (via GCC):
Switching to fuel cells reduces carbon dioxide emissions from homes by 30-40%, and the Japanese government is expected to start subsidizing fuel cell installations in fiscal 2009 as a measure for reducing Japan’s global warming gas emissions.
Nippon Oil’s fuel cell production joint venture with Sanyo Electric Co. is slated to start mass-production in April. By fiscal 2015, the company hopes to lower the price of its household fuel cell systems to around 500,000 yen [US$5,500] and bolster their sales to 40,000 units a year.
This 30-40% reduction in CO2 emissions is probably based on the power-source mix of Japan's grid. In some countries it might be lower, but in others that rely heavily on coal (like Poland), it might be much higher.
Via Nikkei, Green Car Congress
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