Air Products, FuelCell Energy Building High Efficiency Hydrogen Power Plant

Includes: APD, FCEL
by: James Fraser

Air Products (NYSE: APD), and FuelCell Energy, Inc. (NasdaqNM: FCEL), have commenced construction on an advanced hydrogen energy demonstration station designed to address industrial and transportation applications.

The station, funded in part by the United States Department of Energy [DOE], is to demonstrate a tri-generating green energy system capable of providing low-cost hydrogen, electric power and heat from one integrated unit.

The new system will combine FuelCell Energy’s Direct FuelCell® [DFC®] power plants with Air Products’ advanced gas separation technologies. The DFC system produces electric power and heat for cogeneration, as well as hydrogen for industrial applications and fuel cell vehicles. The system is designed to produce more than 250 kilowatts (kW) of green power and over 135 kilograms (about 300 pounds) of hydrogen per day.

The system could provide hydrogen for smaller industrial users who routinely purchase liquid or gaseous hydrogen that currently must be delivered by truck. The DFC system could also be equipped to provide daily hydrogen fueling for approximately 35 fuel cell vehicles.

The tri-generation system is designed to operate on renewable fuel sources, such as anaerobic digester gas from industrial or municipal wastewater treatment facilities, as well as readily available fuels, including natural gas and propane. The overall cost of on-site generation of hydrogen via this process has the potential to be significantly lower than other currently available production options, and thus could provide hydrogen and energy at decreased costs.

According to this report it was concluded in Phases 1 and 2 [of this program] that high-temperature fuel cells configured to co-produce hydrogen and electricity have the potential to meet the DOE hydrogen cost targets, while producing power for less than $0.10/kW.

A simple process flow diagram of the hydrogen co-production concept based on the FuelCell Energy DFC-300 is shown below.

The DFC technology is based on internal reforming of fuels inside the fuel cell, integrating the synergistic benefits of the endothermic reforming reaction with the exothermic fuel cell reaction. The internal reforming of methane is driven by the heat generated in the fuel cell and simultaneously provides efficient cooling of the stack, which is needed for continuous operation. The steam produced in the anode reaction helps to drive the reforming reaction forward.

The hydrogen produced in the reforming reaction is used directly in the anode reaction, which further enhances the reforming reaction. Overall, the synergistic reformer-fuel cell integration leads to high (~50%) electrical efficiency.

The baseline electric DFC is designed to operate at 75% fuel utilization in the stack. The remaining 25% of fuel from the anode presents a unique opportunity for low-cost hydrogen. Capital cost targets for the fuel cell resulted in a hydrogen price of $1.63/kg. In this scenario power is being sold for 8 cents/kWh, below the 10 cent/KWh target.

If a kg of hydrogen is roughly equal to a gallon of gasoline and a fuel cell runs at 50% efficiency, compared to at most 20% efficiency for an ICE, then at $1.63/kg (cost, not retail) it would appear that this would be a very viable source of hydrogen for transportation uses. Even if used in a hydrogen ICE that runs 25% more efficient than a gasoline ICE this would make sense.

The Fuel Cell Energy molten carbonate fuel cell fuel cell is very close to commercial production, although at a high cost. I don't know exactly where the technology for the hydrogen recovery from this process stands.(gasoline 113 MJ/US gallon, 120 MJ/kg for hydrogen - energy to compress to 5-10,000 psi)