With oil trading under $40 for a barrel of the crude stuff and with stocks taking investors and their investments on a frightening ride, it can be very hard to look away. But looking away can be a good idea especially when it involves positive news about the quiet development of hydrogen fuel cells.
The last time I wrote about these clean power sources I told you about consumer friendly products being marketed by the company, Intelligent Energy. IE’s products range from fuel cells that serve as portable power packs that you can carry in your backpack to provide power your cell phone or laptop, to fuel cells being used in London to power a fleet of taxis.
This time around I’m writing about a much larger application of fuel cell technology. industrial scale fuel cells, the kind being used by Verizon, Whole Foods, Connecticut Public Transportation, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Harford, CT and Fox News at its headquarters in New York City. These units are the products of Doosan Fuel Cell America. And while its products won’t fit in your backpack or even a car, Doosan ’s 400kW generator only occupies 800 sq feet. (Since I can be bad at visualizing space I went and looked up what else would take up 800 sq feet. Being that this is a business column and website, I thought this example would be appropriate; according to the website, OfficeFinder a typical President’s or Chairman of the Board’s office can run as large as 400 sq feet)
For those wondering how much electricity 400kW is and what can be done with it: in Nigeria earlier this month, a 400kW dam hydroelectric power plant was inaugurated. The power from this plant will supply electricity to roughly 10,000 homes. You can read the story here. Now hospitals, stores and TV networks have very intense and large energy demands. For example, St Francis uses two 400kW units to provide 60% of its power needs. The units installed at Fox News are to provide uninterrupted power in the event of a power loss such as Hurricane Sandy wrought on New York/ New Jersey. 400kW is a substantial amount of power.
Doosan Fuel Cell America is a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korea’s Doosan Power. The fuel cell division was created last year with the assets and intellectual property of UTC Power a division of United Technologies which Doosan bought. Jeff Chung is the CEO of Doosan Fuel Cell. Understandably, he is excited about the present and future of fuel cell technology. Chung is no energy novice. He comes to the CEO position after time spent with McKinsey and with more traditional power generation technologies.
While Intelligent Energy is focused on products you can see and even hold, Doosan is focused on delivering large-scale power meant to deliver energy savings the guys in finance and environmentalists notice but the rest of us just know the power is on.
Admittedly fuel cells have a couple of challenges that must be over come. First there is the need for a source of hydrogen. Doosan accomplishes this challenge by using natural gas as its source for hydrogen. The company’s technology essentially “cracks” the gas which allows for a continuous supply of hydrogen to the fuel cell stacks. The water that’s produced as a by-product in the process is then used to cool the unit. You can see how Doosan makes it works here. In addition, the heat generated can be used for heating water and/or heating buildings. Chung claims the design has an operating efficiency of 90% with an up time of 98%.
The cost is the other traditional rub. Doosan says the cost of electricity is 14 to 15-cents per kW. By comparison, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the national cost of a kW was 10.44-cents in May. Doosan’s fuel cell power becomes competitive when state/ federal subsidies are applied as subsidies and tax credits lower the costs to 10 to 12-cents per kW.