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Coming Soon: Fuel Cell for All

Emergence of a quiet, efficient, and clean fuel

FuelCellElectricity

Fuel cell technology is an emerging form of clean energy that is now within reach for residential and commercial property owners. Historically, the main concern for fuel cell use was the safety and expense associated with the units. Now with newly evolved fuel cells which run on natural gas versus hydrogen, the tide is turning. Fuel cells for the residential market are now a reality, saving both energy costs and carbon emissions, in comparison to conventional grid-based power systems. Some fuel cell systems have been proven to produce 11 times more energy than solar and with little to no pollution, unlike their ‘dirty fuel’ counterparts. In 2003, President Bush announced a program called the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) which aimed to develop hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies. The initiative is supported by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 , the US Fuel Cell Council and the Advanced Energy Initiative of 2006, all organizations hope to make mobile fuel cell technology practical in vehicles, to make stationary fuel cells practical for buildings and cost-effective for the average citizen.

Typically the by-products from fuel cell technologies are heat and a small release of CO2. When compared to conventional power generation, this cleaner alternative sounds too good to be true with reductions of carbon emissions at about 40% less. As the use of fuel cell technologies continues to grow, companies will continue to strive to develop newer versions of fuel cells that meet the needs of the commercial and residential market.

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Benefits of fuel cell technology

  • The systems are deemed to be environmentally friendly, since they operate with higher efficiency, close to 90%. Conventional fuel systems are only 30% efficient.
  • Fuel cells can reduce energy bills and play an important role in producing the majority of a building’s requirements.
  • Fuel cells can run on abundant resources like natural gas and eventually may run on ecologically derived substances like ethanol and methanol from biogas when it is more readily available fuel source.
  • Such technology is 3 times more efficient that combustion systems.
  • Fuel cells can reduce your carbon footprint by about 40%.
  • As a clean energy source, some available fuel cells are 11 times more productive than solar array because fuel cells make power 24/7 and require only 35 square feet.
  • Fuel cells may play a large role in the future of American energy independency.

General cons

  • During the thermochemical reaction that takes place to extract the hydrogen from the fuel source, there is a small amount of CO2 that is ultimately rexhausted into the atmosphere. In time, as directed biogas becomes available to customers for use, this amount will shrink even more. Eventually as biogas becomes available, this will not be an issue at all.
  • To be effective economically, fuel cells need to be matched in size to the need. Very small fuel cells – at a 1-2kW level which would be right for a smaller home are not yet commercially available in the market. 5kW units are now right sized for larger homes and light commercial applications.
  • Companies are still striving to develop the most effective system for mobility – apart from the fuel cells used in heavy machinery. The”golden goose” is one that can be incorporated to an array of vehicles.

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Why is fuel cell technology unknown, compared to solar or wind?

Unlike wind and solar technology, fuel cells until recently, have not received a whole lot of recognition by the media or government incentives. As the technology has become more efficient and preferred by consumers and producers, the government has implemented on both state and federal levels to provide a variety of tax and rebate incentives… though fuel cells have been in use for over 30 years at large commercial locations..

Many people have not heard of fuel cell technology because it’s new to the residential market. Only a handful of successful fuel cell developers have made it past development stage and into large scale production. If you are interested in receiving progress notices you may register with your desired organization or company online.

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A company that’s ‘Delivering smart energy today’

FuelCellClearEdge

The California/Oregon company prides itself as a pioneer and leader of ultra-clean and efficient fuel cell energy systems for small businesses and homes. Clear Edge Power states that fuel cell technology is more efficient than wind and solar power, and aims to make it widely available to the residential and commercial markets. ClearEdge Power promises their customers a ‘remedy for painfully high utility bills,’ while encouraging folks to take advantage of the utility rebates and government appointed incentives. In addition, the company strives to educate consumers on the benefits that fuel cell technology including efficiencies of about 90%, lower energy bills by as much as 50% and reduction in your carbon footprint of about 40%.

CEO, Russell Ford, and ClearEdge Power have applauded Congressman Wu and Congresswoman Bono-Mack for taking action to increase fuel cell technologies and incentives. Regarding the 2009 residential Fuel Cell Tax Parity Act, which is currently being considered in Congress, Congressman Wu said,

As we try to ensure that America has clean and renewable sources of energy, we need to establish policies to help individuals install these technologies and support industries that are already ahead of the curve. This bill will ensure that families have the opportunity to access the same tax credits that commercial developers get for using renewable power.”

The company has already started selling and installing the ClearEdge 5 system, that costs as low as 6.0¢ per kWh to run. The fuel cell appliance is a good option for an on-site clean energy system as it converts natural gas to electricity and heat. The product consists of three core components and the system’s hydrogen is processed through a Fuel Cell Stack, thus creating direct current (DC) power which the unit converts into the alternative current (AC). It is estimated that the ClearEdge5 system generates 5kW annually, which is optimal for bigger homes larger than at 5,000 square feet.

The ClearEdge Power system promises many benefits. A major environmental is that this technology uses fewer natural resources to meet your energy needs. Small enough to fit right alongside your central air unit, the Clear Edge 5 unit is truly a smart energy system that provides reliable alternative energy, lower energy costs, and reduced CO2 emissions.

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Other companies competing to meet the fuel cell goal

FuelCellBloomenergy

New York Times reported that Bloom Energy is one of the companies closest to revealing their product. The company ran a successful two year study at the University of Tennessee, where they discovered that their Bloom box ran twice as efficient as a natural-gas boiler, while producing 60% less carbon emissions. It is reported that their product can also be modified to run on natural-gas and liquid fuels, like ethanol. In regards to the company’s product development, they have not been forthcoming with any details.

Bloom’s CEO K.R. Sridhar and Kleiner stated that the company plans on selling and leasing its 5 KW Bloom boxes, in addition to entering power-purchasing agreements through an unnamed wholly owned subsidiary. Six years and nearly $250 million later, Bloom is quickly proving to be a company preparing for commercial sales and worldwide recognition.

FuelCellSFC

SFC is a German company which strives to be a leader in motor vehicle incorporated fuel cells. Unlike other companies that are still in the developmental phases of their projects, SFC has been manufacturing and selling various units since 2000. In addition, the company has 25 patents and patent applications covering the very aspects of clean energy technology.

The company is a true pioneer in direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) technology. The miniaturized DMFC system functions with exchangeable fuel cartridges which contain 100% methanol. Currently their products are sold for recreational vehicles (RV’s), sailing boats, remote industrial applications, and consumer electronics. The company goal is to establish its units throughout various markets from healthcare to households to leisure resorts.

FuelCellFuelCellEnergy

FuelCell Energy manufactures clean energy stationary fuel cell power plants which are estimated to generate electricity with twice the efficiency of fossil fuel plants. The company which is headquartered in Connecticut, manages and monitors over 50 power plant locations throughout the world. The company manufactures stationary fuel cell power plants for commercial, industrial, government, and utility applications.

The products associated with this company qualify under several environmental certifications, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Renewable Energy Standards (RES). In addition, they exceed the standards set of fuel cell systems by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

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Learn More

 

HowStuffWorks.com presents: How Fuel Cell Energy Works

EPA to Ban Breathing?

Recycling Center

Indoor Air Quality

Stacking Green Chips in the Silver State

Why Go Solar?

The Sierra Club, SCGH LLC, and its partners are not in any way or form endorsing or recommending any of the products or services listed by any of the providers or advertisers.


28 Responses to “Coming Soon: Fuel Cell for All”

  1. Lucy Says:

    This article is really interesting. A little difficult for me to grasp all the information since it’s so new to me, but very informative!

  2. John Says:

    I can always count on this site for the such great green info. Thanks!

  3. Holly Says:

    Is the research of fuel cell technology extremely expensive?

  4. Sassafras Says:

    Interesting how fuel cell technology might reach homeowners.

  5. Mitchell Says:

    I thought fuel cell tech is expensive, way too much for a homeowner.

  6. Elliot Says:

    I think it will be way too expensive for homeowners for a while. Maybe in 20 years it would be more accessible. Come on, we still have a hard time with the price of solar power!

  7. Lomar Says:

    The price of solar power is expensive! I think we gotta lower that price down before moving to fuel cell technology.

  8. Molly H. Says:

    This is what needs to happen! I cannot wait until residential fuel cell technology is further developed and becomes affordable because I’ll be in line waiting! This is also going to make solar technology re-think it’s prices too– this is exciting!

  9. Jennifer Says:

    There have been thousands of stationary fuel cell installations around the world for years now at places you would never imagine – Bronx Zoo, Whole Foods, Sierra Nevada Brewery (using waste gas from making beer!), Mohegan Sun Casino, Pepperidge Farms, Central Park Police Station, Yale University, Verizon – and so on and so on. Check out http://www.fuelcells.org/info/databasefront.html for a searchable database of worldwide stationary fuel cells and http://www.fuelcells.org/info/statedatabase.html for U.S. ones (including policy, cars and hydrogen stations).

    Other countries are heavily invested in residential fuel cells while the U.S. has focused more on backup and primary power for industrial applications. Japan has about 2,000 residential fuel cells installed and is subsidizing the cost to help. Korea has just announced that they will do the same. Germany is very interested in the cogeneration (CHP) benefits of fuel cells which can get up to 85-90% efficiency.

    Despite their cost which is rapidly coming down, fuel cells make economic sense today for telecommunications and backup power – the Omaha National Bank in Nebraska has had one for years – if they lose power, it costs them millions of dollars a second, so the fuel cell helps make sure they never do. Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all installing them at their cell phone towers.

    Very cool and smart technology!

  10. Patrick at HEF Says:

    It’s so great to see this on the Sierra Club site!

    Regarding price, you know, it’s all relative to the price of what we’re paying for electricity otherwise. In Japan, where electricity prices are so much higher, fuel cells are popular for residential use. In the U.S., the focus is more on providing back-up/emergency power, where fuel cells are MUCH more reliable than gasoline generators that have been sitting around or batteries that might unexpectedly lose their charge from sitting outside–therefore the extra cost is worth it. So the hope is that costs will come down from using fuel cells in for these uses and others, and then they’ll be more affordable for other uses. There are lots of cool things happening (if you know where to look!) http://www.h2andyou.org

  11. Sandra Says:

    Several companies are already selling fuel cells to commercial customers for use as backup power for things like cell towers, air-to-ground communications and security/surveillance. For them, the incentives are set up and the capital cost is feasible. Maintenance costs are actually less than for generators and batteries. However, taking on the whole consumer market for residential fuel cells requires a larger effort and infrastructure. I’m glad to see some companies are stepping in that direction!

  12. Bud DeFlaviis Says:

    To say fuel cells are not popular is an unfortunate term. Fuel cells are very popular with those who have installed them. They are reducing carbon emissions and providing users with high-quality power and in some cases heat at the point of use.

    That said, it is true that fuel cells are not as widely used and don’t receive the attention in the media when compared to wind and solar technologies.

    Popularity surrounding alternative technologies is often cyclical, and the lull in attention is not too problematic for the industry. Fuel cells will succeed or fail on their own merits.

    And as our society becomes more energy efficient and reduces carbon emissions, the right technologies will be installed at the locations where they make the most sense.

    Popularity is a funny thing. Like a high-school clique, an inordinate amount of attention given to one over another is usually not warranted, short-lived and overlooks the good in others.

  13. LizR Says:

    Wow. Just today I read a story about a Hilton in New York that’s been operating a fuel cell for two years and how it’s already paid for itself. And Whole Foods Markets are using fuel cells for peak shaving and to provide backup power so that their freezers don’t shut off when the electricity fails.

    “Hush-hush companies”? UTC Power and Ballard are pretty big names.

    Costly maintenance? I don’t think so. The point of a fuel cell is that they need almost no maintenance. That’s why all the cell phone providers are switching out batteries for fuel cells on the transmission towers, and companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and the DoD are trading in battery forklifts for fuel cell forklifts.

    Companies not interested in residental systems because of vehicles? Two different things. The auto companies make their own fuel cells and they are a different type than the residential units. Kind of like saying no company wants to develop Wii games because the PlayStation exists.

    Limited availability because of high costs? Have you priced rooftop solar? The difference is there’s a big rebate for solar. A bill on the floor now will level the playing field for wind, solar, fuel cells and biogas providing incentives based on kilowatts and CO2 saving instead of technology.

  14. TED Says:

    I think that this is a great write. People need to learn more about the opportunities that fuel cell technology can bring. I wish that the websites I saw were a little bit more helpful, but people decide not to share their info, probably because of industry competition.

  15. Sunny Says:

    I don’t think that fuel cell technology is worth the investment. It’s rarely available and is too expensive for any residential project. Stupid. Go with solar instead.

  16. GeNiEE Says:

    I hope the government is planning on giving residence great incentives for the fuel cell systems. I read that you said, “Its availability to the public is limited, mostly because of the high costs and little interest.” Do you think if the media were to release information more than the public’s awareness would rise and so would the sales.

  17. Yolanda Says:

    I already think solar stuff is too expensive, I doubt I can afford this fuel cell technology.

  18. Roger Smith Says:

    Yolanda, in a few years, actually maybe a decade or so, solar power will be affordable. i think fuel cell technology will be available and picked up by companies, but residents will have a harder time obtaining fuel cell technology as the costs will be too much. We just have to wait.

  19. Jasmine Says:

    Is it just me or is anyone else having difficulty grasping the concept of fuel cell technology?

  20. Rashad Says:

    I heard that green fuel technology is actually available, but the government and the oil companies are trying to “cap” it’s progress for fear of losing money. When will we put the environment and our health over financial gain? I hope this is a glimpse of things to come.

  21. Shoeman Says:

    Jasmine, I’m also having difficulty understanding fuel cell technology. What is it exactly? Does anyone have a good definition?

  22. Aqualuer Gen. Says:

    I think that fuel cell technology is great, you can get a lot out of it. But, it’s very important to understand that it is currently unavailable because a) big oil is keeping it down and b) it’s just too expensive for the average joe

  23. sadg5 Says:

    FUEL CELL TECHNOLOGY IS A WASTE OF MONEY AND INVESTMENT. THERE ARE A LOT BETTER CHOICES OUT THERE THAT CAN OUTLAST AND OUTDO FUEL CELL, LIKE SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY. AND LETS FACE IT THERE IS REALLY NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN ENERGY. ITS A CONCEPT INVENTED BY MAN TO PUSH SALES AND MARKETING. I’M NOT SAYING THAT EVERYONE SHOULD JUST GO AN LIVE IN A CAVE WITH NO LIGHT, ETC. BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE EASY THINGS THAT PEOPLE CAN DO TO AVOID SERIOUS ENERGY CONSUMPTION… THEN THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS OF ENERGY CAN BE SIGNIFICANTLY DECREASED AND TOXINS ELIMINATED.

  24. Laurie Geingel Says:

    sadg5,

    I think that no energy is really clean energy because if fact there are a lot of components that go into constructing the solar panels, turbines, fuel cells, etc. But, ultimately the energy produced by the machines is more eco-friendly than that of fossil fuels. The point being, fuel cells are important because they decrease possible emissions and focus on making our economy less oil dependent.

    I would recommend browsing the websites of those comments (simply click on their logo).

    Hope you opinion changes,
    Laurie

  25. bjwakes Says:

    @Laurie:

    I agree with you that these companies need to look at the overall sustainability of the products that they are producing. What a lot of people don’t know however, is that these companies already have programs in place that focuses on this… but overall it is an improvement with Carbon emissions, so some credit should be rightfully given. I’d rather try to save emissions by 40-90% producing less than cutting the top off of a mountain for coal anyday.

  26. HugNKiss Says:

    Here’s another link I found useful: http://www.fuelcells.org/

  27. TerriLParting Says:

    @ Jasmine: ME! I find this all very exciting- it’s great to hear about new technologies coming about, but my non-technical mind can’t figure out what makes this tick. lol- just as long as it saves energy, right?

  28. Dom Says:

    Great thread! In response to an earlier comment- I also think that this has been “hush-hush” because it’s the next big thing– sounds like it to me. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s replicable due to simplicity, but I’m sure that the individual companies are protecting their assets because it is duplicable. I want more! (info that is ;)


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