Plug Power Inc., a US firm that develops and deploys on-site energy products, has delivered over 600 stationary fuel cell systems to customers worldwide in the commercial, public sector, telecommunications, utility, and uninterruptible power supply markets. For example, a Plug Power GenCore backup power unit, shown here, is designed to produce 5 kW over 12 hours, using 6 standard tanks of hydrogen. Plug also makes reformers that generate hydrogen as a standalone product; or, they integrate the reformers with PEM fuel cells. For more information visit http://www.plugpower.com
. We'll bet there aren't a hundred commercially operating fuel cell vehicles of any sort in existence. Yet, transportation uses of fuel cell technology get virtually all the media attention. Our point is that there are several stationary fuel cell makers, representing a variety distinct technologies, selling operating units to a global marketplace now
. We expect increased commercial success in the US in 2006, due in part to the recently passed Federal tax incentives. And not all of the stationary designs require pure clean natural gas as a feedstock. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (so named "SOFC's), for example, can be designed to operate from relatively impure, high temperature organic vapors to make electricity directly: i..e. fuel reformation happens in-situ. These are being developed for making electricity directly from biogas or coal gas streams. TreeHugger plans more posts on such technologies as commercial success grows.
Here's one of the continuous, stationary power sources from Plug.
In closing, we urge our readers to set aside any negative ideas thay may have gotten about fuel cell foibles in transportation. While the natural gas (methane) being reformed on-the-fly to make hydrogen in a stationary fuel cell unit produces waste heat, that heat can, in actual practice, be utilized not only to provide domestic hot water and home heat but also to drive adsorption-based air conditioners. These integrations can bring the total fuel efficiency of the combined domestic appliances far above the numbers you hear for transportation.
Also, we urge you to be mindful that the hydrogen producing "reformers" used by stationary fuel cells typically emit lower amounts of NOX and SOX per unit of useful work than do the furnaces, gas heaters, and air conditioners that they might one day supplant as heat sources. Both the added effiency and the lower emission burden should be understood in the total life cycle context: e.g. distributed power bypasses transmission losses (6 to 9% range) and reflects a much higher generational efficiency than say the coal fired electricity relied upon by baseboard heaters or groundwater heatpumps that would ordinarily draw from a grid.
As weight and size do not pose serious limitations for stationary fuel cell applications, there is good reason to be optimistic that the potential for stationary fuel cells will be realized long before mobile commercial applications become widespread.