Fuel Cells: Impediments or barriers to development or implementation

Fuel Cells: Impediments or barriers to development or implementation

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Description: Fuel cells are an emerging technology that continues to evolve rapidly. Fuel cell systems offer the potential for clean, reliable energy by generating electricity from a chemical reaction rather than from combustion (burning a fuel). In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to produce electricity and water.

Hydrogen (fuel) is fed into the anode of the fuel cell, and oxygen (from air) is fed into the cathode side. Encouraged by a catalyst, electrons are stripped from the hydrogen atom; freed of the electrons, the protons pass through the electrolyte, while the electrons are forced to take a different path to the cathode. As the electrons travel their separate path, they create an electric current that can be utilized.

 
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Contents:
Livable New York Resource Manual
http://www.aging.ny.gov/LivableNY/ResourceManual/Index.cfm

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Marci Brunner, Project Coordinator
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
Albany, NY
FUEL CELLS
Description:
Fuel cells are an emerging technology that continues to evolve rapidly.
Fuel cell systems offer the potential for clean, reliable energy by generating
electricity from a chemical reaction rather than from combustion (burning a fuel).
In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to produce electricity and water.
Hydrogen (fuel) is fed into the anode of the fuel cell, and oxygen (from air) is fed
into the cathode side. Encouraged by a catalyst, electrons are stripped from the
hydrogen atom; freed of the electrons, the protons pass through the electrolyte,
while the electrons are forced to take a different path to the cathode. As the
electrons travel their separate path, they create an electric current that can be
utilized. At the cathode, another catalyst rejoins the hydrogen atom, which then
combines with the oxygen to create a molecule of water.

Producing electrical power for a working application requires more than just the fuel
cell stack. A fuel cell system may include fuel processing, thermal management,
power conditioning, electric grid connection, and energy storage modules; the
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power conditioning system provides regulated DC or AC power appropriate for the
application. Successful integration of an entire fuel cell system is critical to
achieving optimal performance. While hydrogen is the primary fuel source for fuel
cells, the process of fuel-reforming allows for the extraction of hydrogen from many
widely available fuels, such as natural gas and propane, or any other hydrogencontaining fuel.
Fuel cell systems offer commercially viable alternatives to existing power sources
because they have higher efficiency compared with conventional power generation,
emit little or no pollution, and have greater flexibility in installation and operation.
These systems are appropriate for all geographic areas of the State and can be
deployed to operate in parallel with the electric grid (as independent energy
sources) or to complement solar and wind generating systems. The space needed
to house a fuel cell is equivalent to an ordinary refrigerator. A system for a single
family residence could be located in the basement or backyard.
Fuel-cell-based MicroCHP (combined heat and power)—
As the cost of energy increases and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
becomes more urgent, the need for clean, high-efficiency distributed generation
solutions becomes increasingly important.
CHP systems, at all capacities—industrial, commercial, and residential—remain a
top choice for solving America’s energy constraints. A recent study by Oak Ridge
National Laboratory concludes that “the energy efficiency benefits of CHP offer
significant, realistic solutions to near- and long-term energy issues facing the
Nation.” Co-generation (heat and electricity) solutions make the most sense in
regions where the cogenerated heat can be put to good use (for example, in the
colder climates like New York and throughout the northeast).
Fuel-cell-based CHP systems represent a solution for residential or light
commercial, grid-connected, stationary power requirements. In addition, they also
offer energy efficiency and environmental benefits, as well as an economic/cost
advantage to the end user.
The use of fuel cell systems for a variety of applications is increasing across the
world. For example, in Japan, Toyota has built fuel cell hybrid buses; drivers in
Southern California are testing Honda's Fuel Cell Electric cars; Germany created the
world's first fuel cell boat and uses fuel-cell systems in submarines; a Chinese
company will use PEM fuel cells to power their electric bicycles for China's
extensive, growing e-bike market; Manhattan’s new Twin Towers are expected to
be partially powered by 12 hydrogen fuel cells; and, according to the U. S.
Department of Energy, in the United States there are major fuel cell programs in
New York (NYSERDA), Connecticut (Connecticut Clean Energy Fund), Ohio (Ohio
Development Department), and California (California Energy Commission).
While fuel cell technology in private homes and multiunit housing has not yet
reached the level of use in large buildings, commercial spaces, and other
applications, residential use is increasing. Japan is in the forefront, with 2,200
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homes getting their heat and electricity through fuel-cell generation. In the United
States, interest in residential usage is now increasing. For example, in 2002, the
York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) partnered with
the National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation in Western New York to install fuel
cell systems in two residential homes; in 2007, the Governor's mansion in Florida
became powered through a hydrogen fuel cell system; in 2009 NYSERDA partnered
with Plug Power, Inc.,1 to install fuel cell systems in three New York State homes.
Several manufacturers across the country are currently working on installing
residential fuel cells, including ClearEdge Power in California and Oregon,
McCutcheon Construction in California, and Plug Power, Inc., in Albany, New York.
While cost continues to be an issue in the implementation of fuel cell systems, the
U. S. Department of Energy has been working steadily to bring down the cost to be
competitive with other forms of energy-generation.
Reference:
1
Plug Power, Inc., Albany, New York; home page: http://www.plugpower.com/;
commercial fuel cell products:
http://www.plugpower.com/AboutUs/SiteSearch.aspx?IndexCatalogue=Plug%20Power
%20Website%20Pages&SearchQuery=commercial%20fuel%20cell%20products
Benefits:
For consumers:
• Up to 85 per cent overall efficiency.


25–35 per cent reduction in emissions from household energy use.



Zero emissions.



Low noise and vibration.



Low operating and maintenance requirements— less down- time (100x more
reliable than the average power supply for data centers—three seconds of down
time per year versus an average of five minutes).



Less variation in efficiency across variable loads, with clean water and heat as
the only by-product.



There are federal tax credits for multiple-dweller residential developments.

For communities:
• Transitioning to a hydrogen-based economy can deliver three main benefits:
 Energy Security: Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of fuel sources,
including renewables, which can help diversify our energy supplies and lessen
our dependence on foreign oil.
 Economic Growth: Hydrogen can contribute to economic growth through job
creation in a developing industry and investment opportunities.
 Environmental Health: Hydrogen can be produced and used in ways that
improve health-related air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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Hydrogen is the lightest of all elements. This causes it to be buoyant and to
rapidly disperse when released in air, so a leak is quickly diluted and harmless.



Hydrogen is colorless, odorless, and has no taste. It is non-toxic and nonpoisonous, and there are no significant environmental hazards associated with
accidental discharge.



A hydrogen fire radiates very little heat compared to a petroleum fire. For a
flammable mixture to exist, a four times higher concentration of hydrogen is
required than that of gasoline (four per cent versus one per cent). An
electrostatic spark from the human body is just as likely to ignite gasoline as
hydrogen at these minimum concentrations.



Hydrogen has been mass-produced for more than 50 years. Eight million tons
are produced annually in the U.S. alone.

Impediments or barriers to development or implementation:
• Fuel cells have the potential to be a very clean source of energy if the hydrogengeneration process uses renewable fuel sources; however, current governmentfunded research requires the use of fossil fuels to produce the vast majority of
hydrogen for fuel cells. Without a trend towards increased use of renewables for
hydrogen production, this technology’s environmental benefits will continue to
be somewhat offset by its reliance on fossil fuels.


There are also concerns that, in a large-scale hydrogen economy where
hydrogen is used to power fuel cells and related technologies in a variety of
applications, manufacturing, storing, and transporting hydrogen would result in
leaks that could accumulate in the upper atmosphere, potentially depleting polar
ozone layers. Infrastructure designs that carefully eliminate the potential for
leaks can minimize this risk.

Resource—examples:
• Lewiston, New York (Niagara County): In 2002, the first fuel cell system to
power a single-family home in Western New York was created through a
partnership of business and government entities , including the New York State
Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), National Fuel Gas
Company (NYSE: NFG), Plug Power Inc. (NASDAQ: PLUG), ATSI Engineering
Services (ATSI), Integrated Building And Construction Solutions, Inc. (IBACOS),
and the United States Department of Energy (DOE).
ZPEnergy.com (April 23, 2002), "Paving the Way" (Press Release):
http://www.zpenergy.com/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=96;
http://www.zpenergy.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=96.


Plug Power (July 7, 2009), "Plug Power Receives Award to Operate Residential
GenSys Fuel Cells in New York State Homes" (Press Release):

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http://www.plugpower.com/News/PressReleases/09-0707/PLUG_POWER_RECEIVES_AWARD_TO_OPERATE_RESIDENTIAL_GENSYS_FU
EL_CELLS_IN_NEW_YORK_STATE_HOMES.aspx.
Also: NASDAQ OMX—Globe Newswire (July 7, 2009):
http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?d=168467.
Plug Power, Inc., has received a $1.4 million award from the New York State
Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to install and operate
three combined heat and power (CHP) GenSys fuel cell systems in New York
State homes. These systems will allow Plug Power to validate and enhance
product features in preparation for broad scale product commercialization. The
first system is scheduled to be installed in mid-2009, with all three units
expected to be operational by the end of 2009.
A residential GenSys unit will be installed in the basement of each home and will
operate in conjunction with the electric grid, running on natural gas. The fuel
cell will produce electricity and high-quality heat to satisfy the home's heating
and domestic hot water demands. Plug Power estimates that the GenSys unit is
expected to achieve an overall combined efficiency of 85 per cent (currently,
homes utilizing grid electricity and typical heating systems average 44 per cent
household efficiency), and is expected to save the homeowners approximately
30 per cent on their monthly utility bills.
Residential GenSys is a grid-parallel system, with two sources of power
available— the grid and GenSys. During normal operation, GenSys is designed
to satisfy all the cooling, heating, and hot water requirements of a typical home.
As the home calls for cooling/heat or hot water, GenSys produces electricity; the
more cooling/heat you need, the more electricity that is produced. Homes with
large space conditioning or hot water demands may produce excess electricity,
which can be sold back to the grid. Conversely, during periods of peak usage,
homes with very high electrical demands may also consume some electricity
from the grid. GenSys delivers between $1.60 and $1.80 worth of energy
(heating, cooling, and electricity) for each $1 of natural gas processed. The
economic benefit varies with specific energy demands and regional energy
prices, but typically results in a 20-40 per cent reduction in monthly energy bills.
Resource—written and web:
• U. S. Fuel Cell Council, About Fuel Cells—How Do They Work:
http://www.usfcc.com/about/how.html.


U. S. Department of Energy: Enter "U. S. Department of Energy—Fuel Cells"
into Google's search engine to see an extensive list of links to the Department's
information on fuel cells and fuel cell programs.



New York State Energy Research and Development Authority:
http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/ (enter "fuel cells" in the Department's Web site
search engine for extensive information on fuel cells); or,. for a direct link:
http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/SearchResults.aspx?searchvalue=fuel%20cells&sort
=0&pagetype=0&pagenumber=1&page=1.
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Karl V. Kordesch and Guenter R. Simader (January, 1995), "Environmental
Impact of Fuel Cell Technology," Chemical Reviews, Vol. 95, No. 1.



Smithsonian Institution—National Museum of American History (2008), Fuel
Cells: http://americanhistory.si.edu/fuelcells/index.htm.
"Fuel Cell Basics": http://americanhistory.si.edu/fuelcells/basics.htm.

Resource (free or fee-based)—technical assistance contact names:
Dana Levy, D.Eng., P.E.
Program Manager for Industrial Research
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
17 Columbia Circle
Albany, New York 12203
518-862-1090, ext. 3377
DLL@NYSERDA.org



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