Fuel cells are gaining popularity as an energy source, particularly amid the U.S. natural gas boom.
The cells can run on almost any sort of fuels – biofuels, natural gas, even coal or propane. But unlike power plants that run on some of these dirtier fuels, fuel cells minimize – and in some cases, virtually eliminate – the emissions that result from electricity generation.
FuelCell Energy (NASDAQ: FCEL), a Connecticut-based fuel cell manufacturer, is one of the industry leaders in this field. The company began as part of a larger corporation in 1969 before spinning off into its own company in 1999.
It patented the Direct FuelCell, its brand of cells with 47% power generation efficiency and 90% overall efficiency in Combined Heat and Power applications. It has four different versions of the cells, all offering different capacities and footprints to fit its customers' specific needs.
Like competitor Bloom Energy, which works to provide on-site power to companies like Google and AT&T, FuelCell provides power to manufacturing companies, hospitals, and universities, but also on a larger scale to utilities.
Now, however, it's doing something a little different. As part of an agreement with Virginia-based Dominion Resources (NYSE: D), FuelCell Energy will build a massive 14.9-megawatt fuel cell park – the biggest fuel cell power plant in North America.
The fuel cell park, located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, will use five of FuelCell's biggest products. The DFC3000 is a 2.8-megawatt cell best suited for grid support and other large-scale operations.
Dominion will own the fuel cell park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which will extend 1.7 acres. Electricity will be sold under a 15-year fixed price purchase agreement to the Connecticut Light and Power Company (CL&P).
From the press release:
“This is the largest project that we have developed to date in the USA, working with three utilities, local, and state government to enhance the reliability of the electric grid with clean distributed power generation,” said Chip Bottone, President and Chief Executive Officer of FuelCell Energy, Inc. “This highly efficient and ultra-clean fuel cell park will produce economic value for a broad number of stakeholders, both public and private, as well as provide public health benefits.”
The companies plan to have the first plant installed by the summer of next year, with full operation occurring by the end of 2013.
FuelCell expects the project will create 160 local jobs and a total profit of $125 million, stemming from services and hardware sales, as the Green Optimistic reports.
The project is a part of Connecticut's renewable initiative, Project 150. The goal of the initiative is to grow the state's renewable capacity by 150MW.
Because fuel cells, like those produced by FuelCell Energy, use electrochemical processes rather than combustion to convert the fuel to electricity, the byproduct is heat. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions are dramatically reduced, regardless of what type of fuel is put into the cell.
Of course, some types of fuels are better than others. Coal gas, for example, would have more pollutants than natural gas, which would have more than biofuels.
At the moment, natural gas looks ideal. A number of U.S. coal-fired plants have been switching over to natural gas, as the utilities are able to save a bit of money using the cheaper fuel.
And the abundant domestic supply coming from the shale boom will continue to supply projects like this one for the near future, allowing power plants and grid power to run on domestic fuel.
That's all for now,
Energy & Capital's modern energy guru, Brianna digs deep into the industry with accurate and insightful updates into the biggest energy companies and events. She stays up to date with the latest market moves and industry finds, bringing readers a unique view of current energy trends. For more on Brianna, see her editor's page.