Fuel-cell dreams: Powering houses and cars with zero-emission energy | MNN


BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — How can it’s an influence plant if there’s no smokestack? Mockingly, Bridgeport’s huge 14.9-megawatt zero-emission fuel cell park, the most important in North America, is already partly constructed however was simply introduced final Friday in a gritty industrial metropolis whose skyline remains to be dominated by the red-and-white-striped stack of an historic however nonetheless working coal plant (one of many state’s “filthy 5”).

Additional distinction was supplied by the damaged home windows within the deserted manufacturing facility buildings a block away — Bridgeport’s plunge from an financial powerhouse was swift when jobs fled abroad. The gas cells (a rendering of how they’re going to look when achieved is under) are sitting atop an outdated brownfield website — it was the house of the shuttered-in-1988 Bryant Electrical manufacturing facility, location of a lot historic union strife.

fuel cell plant in Bridgeport, Connecticutt

Gas cells, invented within the 19th century, are lastly coming into their very own as each utility-scale energy vegetation and as battery options for electrical vehicles. The primary vehicles with gas cells underneath the hood shall be on the street as early as 2014. The primary in the marketplace will in all probability by the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell SUV, which is pictured under and has a formidable 365 miles of vary. Shut behind, in 2015, will seemingly be fuel-cell vehicles from Honda (the FCX Readability, pictured under the Hyundai), Toyota and Daimler. They’re anticipated to cost $50,000 to make and retail for about $100,000, however costs ought to drop from there.

I’ve pushed most of the available fuel-cell cars, and so they’re a blast on the street — quiet, highly effective, and with out the vary anxiousness of each electrical car aside from the Tesla Mannequin S. The most important hurdle is the supply of hydrogen filling stations, so probably the most in all probability situation is that American fuel-cell vehicles will initially be offered solely in New York and California. The infrastructure is lagging behind — California wished to have 68 hydrogen stations in place by 2016, however proper now it has solely eight, largely within the Los Angeles space.

Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell SUV

The gas cell, which produces electrical energy by way of a chemical response, is scalable. Which means you should use it to energy a watch or a giant energy plant. The amazingly low worth for pure fuel (about $2 for a gallon equal) proper now makes hydrogen a development alternative.

Proper now untaxed hydrogen can be made for about $4 a kilogram, with about the identical vitality content material as a gallon of gasoline. However since gas cells are greater than twice as environment friendly as gasoline engines, the precise equation is much more favorable to hydrogen. The massive downside — the $1 to $2 million value of hydrogen stations.

For 95 p.c of the 10 million tons of hydrogen produced yearly within the U.S., the uncooked materials is the aforementioned piped-in pure fuel, which by way of a course of referred to as steam methane reformation is break up into hydrogen and carbon oxides. So the gas cell is zero emission, but not the hydrogen separation. It might take a carbon seize system comparable to that developed by GE and BP Amoco to make the method utterly clear.

Honda FCX Clarity

Ideally, the large energy vegetation can be synergistic with the fuel-cell vehicles. We’d work out the way to comprise the carbon produced by massive hydrogen manufacturing, and filling stations on each nook would make the necessity for fossil fuels redundant. Hydrogen has plenty of benefits, together with that it’s broadly out there in every single place. Goodbye to OPEC. Jeremy Rifkin, creator of “The Hydrogen Financial system,” has been speaking about this for years. And the Japanese are manner forward of us, utilizing gas cells (sponsored by the federal authorities) in zero-emission, zero-carbon properties.

In Bridgeport, the brand new gas cell farm (there are 5 separate items) will produce sufficient electrical energy to energy 15,000 properties. Warmth from the cells shall be captured in a turbine to provide extra energy. The advanced is being constructed by Connecticut-based powerhouse Gas Cell Vitality, a pacesetter in utility-scale vegetation — it additionally constructed the large set up in South Korea that’s presently the world’s largest. A good larger 59-megawatt farm is underneath building in Korea, FCE’s Tony Leo instructed me.

Bridgeport Connecticut fuel cell farm

The gas cell farm (seen with Bridgeport blight, above) shall be owned by Dominion, a giant utility that owns 27,500 megawatts of energy era, wind farms in West Virginia and Indiana, and 11,000 miles of pure fuel pipelines. The electrical energy the gas cells generate shall be used regionally, by clients of Connecticut Mild & Energy, underneath a 15-year energy buy settlement.

What makes this work is a state program called Project 150, championed by the Clear Vitality Finance and Funding Authority, which provides 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour to the worth utilities pay for renewably generated electrical energy. With out that plan, Bridgeport’s gas cells wouldn’t be financially viable, and that’s what introduced out the mayor, the native congressman, environmental commissioner Dan Esty, and Gov. Dannel Malloy (who identified that Connecticut has the very best electrical charges within the continental U.S.). “It took us a lot of years to get right here,” Esty stated, “however now Bridgeport shall be a mannequin of sustainability. The objective is vitality that’s not simply clear, however cheaper and extra dependable on the similar time.”

Connecticut is a giant gas cell chief — not simply making them however utilizing them. There are main installations at Central Connecticut State School in New Britain, at Carla’s Pasta wholesalers in South Windsor (I visited that one) and at Pepperidge Farm’s giant bakery in Bloomfield. United Applied sciences pioneered gas cells in Connecticut, and Proton Onsite in Wallingford makes them, too. The latter has a photo voltaic hydrogen station, and in addition a take a look at fleet of Toyota gas cell vehicles. Proprietor Tom Sullivan needs to place hydrogen stations up and down the East Coast, however has solely achieved the Connecticut one to date. I may go on and on about gas cells, however I am positive you’d somewhat see this video of a take a look at drive within the Honda FCX Readability:

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about vehicles, expertise and the environmental world to anybody curious sufficient to ask.

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