MORGANTOWN, W.VA - From its humble production of 1
watt of power nearly 30 years ago to its generation of nearly 2 million
watts (2 megawatts) today, a revolutionary fuel cell technology is shaping
the production of ultraclean electricity at a fraction of its former cost.
The recent installation of Direct FuelCell® technology at a flagship
hotel in New York City and the sale of a 250–kilowatt unit to the
U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.,
highlight a nearly 30-year history between the Energy Department’s
National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and FuelCell Energy, developer
of the technology.
“Through this longstanding partnership between DOE and a private
company, we have seen the steady progress in reducing the cost and increasing
the efficiency of fuel cells,” said Mark Williams, NETL Technology
Manager for Distributed Generation. “This level of progress bodes
well for a clean environment and offers a vision of future energy production.”
The most recent 10-year agreement between NETL and FuelCell Energy slashed
fuel cell costs to one third of what they were a decade ago. “Once
the NETL-supported research reduced the cost of Direct FuelCell systems,
they became ripe for commercialization,” said NETL Project Manager
The New York installation occurred at the Sheraton New York Hotel &
Towers in midtown Manhattan where a 250-kilowatt system has begun to supply
10 percent of the hotel’s electricity and hot water, while supplying
backup electric service as well. The Marine Corps unit will improve the
availability of reliable electricity to help the training center meet
security requirements and cope with fluctuating power needs. FuelCell
Energy expects to ship the unit to the Marines by July 2006.
Direct FuelCells use a core building block size of 250 kilowatts, but
they can be combined to produce up to 2 megawatts of power. Because of
their size and ability to use various fuels, they hold tremendous promise
for on-location stationary and distributed generation for a wide range
of applications: hotels, hospitals, universities, wastewater treatment
plants, data centers, lighthouses, industrial facilities, and other sites.
The successful partnership between DOE and private industry in developing
fuel cells goes a long way toward the expected hydrogen economy of the
future. By using hydrogen as a basis for electric production, virtually
no pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere, thereby reducing greenhouse
gases and meeting the goals of the President’s Clear Skies initiatives.
To gain a perspective on the advantages of fuel cells to the environment,
each 250-kilowatt fuel cell system in use is equal to removing 120 automobiles
from the road. And the comparable reduction of carbon dioxide emissions
compares with planting 160 new trees.
The environmental advantages of the Direct FuelCell result from its ability
to create hydrogen from natural gas inside the fuel cell. It then combines
the hydrogen with oxygen in an electrochemical reaction, much like a battery,
to generate electricity. Since no fuels are burned, the process is one
of the cleanest ways to generate electricity from natural gas.
As a result of the longstanding partnership between NETL and FuelCell
Energy, the company has sent more than 42 systems to customers worldwide
and raised more than $400 million from the marketplace to support further
research and commercialization efforts. In addition to the United States,
the company’s global reach extends to Europe, Japan, and Korea,
and its marketing agreements include energy service companies in the United
States and Canada.