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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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