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Fuel cell technology has been around longer than batteries. Even so, many believed that they are still in a research phase of development. This is true to some extent, but the same can also be said of the motor vehicle industry. Fuel cells are available commercially today and are the power generator of choice in many circumstances for reasons including efficiency, cost and environment.

Sizes of fuel cells range from 3kW to 400kW per unit with combinations of units providing generation capacity up to 20MW or more.

The fuel used includes:
  • Methane
    • Natural gas
    • Coal seam / bed gas
    • Waste gas from sewerage treatment plants
    • Waste gas from land fill
  • Hydrogen (99.99% pure)
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
Uses of fuel cells

The smaller fuel cells are used in applications including:
  • Transport
    • Cars
    • Forklifts
  • Stationary power
    • Remote power generation
    • Backup
Larger fuel cells are being used as a primary source of power in the following applications:
  • Hospitals
  • Defence bases
  • Prisons
  • Hotels / resorts
  • Breweries
  • Waste water treatment plants
  • Data Centres
Advantages of fuel cells

High efficiency is the main driver for most purchases. The larger fuel cells have efficiencies for power production alone of over 44%. As they are also exothermic, the heat generated is usually utilised for other purposes such as space or water heating or space cooling via the coupling of an absorptive chiller. In some cases the combined efficiency can be as high as 88%.

Fuel cells that run on pure hydrogen have one exhaust only, water vapour. This means no noxious fumes, no CO2 and no particulate matter.

The larger methane fuel cells do exhaust CO2 in addition to water vapour. They also have no noxious fumes or particulate matter. The higher power efficiency results in lower carbon dioxide output though when compared with similar sized diesel generators or gas turbines.

Fuel cells have no moving parts and, therefore, high reliability is the norm.

Similar to batteries, fuel cells are themselves silent running. Fuel pumps, where required, are generally the only producers of sound. The lack of noise pollution makes the larger fuel cells ideal candidates for locations like hospitals, hotels, residential or central business district locations.

Here is a presentation that I did to a FutureGas conference: Fuel Cells in Australia.

More information

dinkum energy provides consulting and sourcing services in fuel cell technology.

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