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High Efficiency Fuel Cell Technology Promises 80% Efficiency

The potential applications of fuel cell technology is broad -- from automotive, to stationery equipment, to electrical generation and cooling heat and power.

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Based on the extensive research and commercialization going on in California to develop fuel cell technology and an infrastructure for this clean energy member of the new green economy, fuel cells provide many benefits:
  • Greater efficiency than distributed generation combustion technologies,
  • Ultra‐low emissions of traditional pollutants like nitrogen oxides
  • Fuel diversity
  • Ease of siting
  • High end‐user reliability
The potential applications of fuel cell technology is broad. Applications cover stationary equipment, automotive vehicles, portable equipment, emergency back‐up (such as cell tower back‐up), and motive (e.g. forklifts) applications.

Fuel cell technology can also provide lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than today's commonly used distributed combustion generation.

Fuel cells running on renewable fuels or natural gas with effective waste heat utilization, have lower GHG emissions than grid-supplied electricity, according to a report by the California ETAAC Advanced Technology Sub-Group.

General availability of hydrogen generated from renewable energy would create another promising opportunity.

Current highly‐efficient fuel cell technologies being deployed in California include:

  • Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cells (PEM) used in automotive, heavy duty truck, motive, and back‐up power applications;
  • Molten carbonate (MCFC) and solid oxide (SOFC) fuel cells used for stationary electrical generation, combined heat and power (CHP), and combined cooling, heat, and power (CCHP) applications.

Electrical efficiencies of Molten carbonate (MCFC) and solid oxide (SOFC) fuel cells currently being deployed exceed 50% and with the addition of combined heat and power CHP or combined cooling, heat, and power (CCHP) can approach or exceed 80% overall efficiency.

That's amazing efficiency!

Fuel cell‐gas turbine systems are currently in the development and testing phase and are expected to achieve electrical efficiencies of 70% or higher.

The National Fuel Cell Research Center is finalizing research on market and technical barriers and potential additional policy responses (under a California Energy Commission grant and research on the monetary value of stationary fuel cells relative to other generation technologies in collaboration with a number of fuel cell companies.

Two programs in California support broader deployment of fuel cell technology. Fuel cells qualify for

  • Self generation incentive program (SGIP) incentives;
  • California AB 1110 that allows the most efficient distributed electricity generation fuel cells to take advantage of subsidized natural gas delivery rates formerly only available for combined heat and power

National Fuel Cell Research Center

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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