Hydrogen is being considered as a replacement for today's fossil fuels because it is abundant, efficient, and unlike other alternatives, it offers the potential to be renewable and it produces no emissions. It can be utilized as the energy carrier for generating electrical power with hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion engines. Within a hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen combines with oxygen from the air to create electricity. The fuel cell can run continuously and generate energy as long as the hydrogen fuel is being supplied, and the only by-products are heat and water. Many fuel cells utilized today for distributed power generation require integration with a fuel processor to produce a hydrogen-rich gas from a hydrocarbon based fuel such as natural gas or propane. However, numerous benefits can be realized by the use of direct high purity hydrogen to the fuel cell. The applications that are amenable for direct hydrogen fuel sourcing include portable devices, primary power, backup power, peak-shaving and grid stabilization.
Companies are developing devices such as cell phones, laptop computers and movie cameras that utilize hydrogen fuel cartridges and fuel cells to replace batteries currently in use. Fuel cells offer the potential for longer run times and higher power features.
Power generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar power does not always match the requirements for use. However, in order to maximize utilization of renewable power, particularly in remote locations, this type of power can be used to generate hydrogen that can then be stored.
Backup or Premium Power Requirements
Backup power and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) are required when a highly reliable power source is critical to keep a business or equipment in operation without interruption even if grid power is lost. The significantly longer life of fuel cell systems could replace battery systems to provide the needed primary or backup power for many of these applications. The use of direct hydrogen to fuel cells in these applications allows immediate power use.
Stationary Power Applications
Fuel cells convert chemical energy directly into electricity while only producing heat and water as by-products. Properly designed fuel cells can therefore produce electricity for commercial and residential power requirements while simultaneously providing heat. The use of direct hydrogen to the fuel cells can also improve the efficiency of the fuel cell system.
Hydrogen Energy Station
A hydrogen energy station is a technology that co-produces power, heat and hydrogen. This type of system is often referred to as CHHP (Combined Heat, Power and Hydrogen). As shown in the figure below, the station uses a high-temperature fuel cell to co-generate electricity, heat and hydrogen. The fuel cell can use a diversity of hydrogen-rich fuels, including digester gas, natural gas, landfill gas and syngas. This technology is expected to provide a source of cost-competitive, renewable hydrogen.
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