Fuel cells are a technology that allow the generation of electricity and heat at home from natural gas. Fuel cells have been announced as important energy devices for many years, but now it seems that medium size (a few kw) fuel cells for large houses and business are becoming commercialized and increasingly popular. This rewsidential application takes natural gas and runs it through a membrane to produce hydrogen, and then uses the hydrogen to produce electricity. The fuel cell uses the gas by chemical and electrochemcial transformation, not by combustion.
Strong advances on the market of residential fuel cells are occuring in California as described some time back in an article by Kanello. Now Marge Ryan in Fuel Cell Today reports the recent developments in Europe on fuel cells for combined generation of home heat and power (micro-CHP). With the pioneering Ene-Farm programme in Japan going from strength to strength and thousands of new units being sold there each year, it is apparent that the fuel cell suppliers in this market are beginning to enjoy commercial success. What progress Europe is making towards deployment on a scale similar to Japan?
Ryan writes that currently, the largest European project in this area is the Callux field trial in Germany, with systems from Baxi Innotech, Hexis and Vaillant installed in selected homes (the Baxi system is PEMFC, the others SOFC). In June this year, the 260 fuel cell systems installed to date had passed a cumulative one million hours of operation. Logging hours in trial deployments is essential to evaluate the performance of products under real-world conditions as a basis for further improvements. These have been substantial: Callux reports that appliance costs have been reduced by 60%, while costs for maintenance and replacement parts have come down by 90%; availability has increased to over 97%; electrical efficiency has increased to over 33% and overall efficiency to over 96%. To add to this, the systems have become smaller, lighter and more durable.