Although affordability remains an obstacle to widespread use, fuel cell applications continue to garner attention with their roster of milestones. Each trumpeted unveiling heralds another step toward refinement of the technology, and ultimately, large-scale production and commercialization.
Distributed generation and automotive fuel cell applications recently received accolades. For example, DaimlerChrysler touted its NECAR (New Electric Car) 4 as the first drivable fuel cell car in the United States, a significant step toward the company`s goal to market fuel cell vehicles by 2004. DaimlerChrysler plans to invest more than $1.4 billion on fuel cell technology development by the time the first fuel cell cars come to market-about the same amount of money spent to introduce an entire line of vehicles, such as the Chrysler 300M, Chrysler Concorde, Chrysler LHS and Dodge Intrepid.
A concept based on the Mercedes-Benz A-class compact car, NECAR 4 does up to 90 mph and can travel nearly 280 miles before refueling. DaimlerChrysler claims the car`s range exceeds that of any other zero emissions vehicle.
The figure shows how engineers mounted the complete fuel cell system in the vehicle floor for the first time, allowing room for up to five passengers. The proton exchange membrane`s (PEM) catalytic coating breaks up hydrogen into positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The protons migrate into the oxygen and combine to form water. The electrons stay behind. The difference in voltage created between the two electrodes can be used via an external power circuit.
Continuing the transfer of fuel cells out of the laboratory and into demonstration vehicles is the goal of the California Fuel Cell Partnership (DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co., ARCO, Shell, Texaco, the State of California, and Ballard Power Systems), which plans to place 50 fuel cell vehicles on the road between 2000 and 2003 for testing in real-world operating conditions. All the vehicles will be powered by Ballard fuel cells.
Also joining the ranks are General Motors and Toyota. The Wall Street Journal recently reported the automakers would soon announce a five-year pact to develop fuel cell vehicles. They plan to produce their own fuel cell systems rather than purchase them elsewhere.
Highlighting a distributed generation application, the New York Power Authority installed an ONSI PC25 fuel cell at a Central Park police station. Avoiding the $1.2 million cost of providing an upgraded power line to the 128-year old police station, the 200 kW unit will also provide power for an adjacent electric vehicle charging facility.
Other fuel cell developments include:
– Southern California Gas Co., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy and the nation`s largest natural gas distribution utility, plans to invest $7.5 million in residential fuel cell developer, Plug Power. Initial market launch of Plug Power`s 7 kW system is planned for 2001, with distribution in the United States and overseas with General Electric, through GE Fuel Cell Systems, a joint venture between GE Power Systems (75%) and Plug Power (25%).
– GE Fuel Cell Systems signed a memorandum of understanding naming New Jersey Resources as its exclusive partner in New Jersey for the sale and marketing of Plug Power-manufactured residential and small commercial-sized fuel cell systems.
– Avista Corp. affiliate, Avista Labs, selected Logan Industries Inc. as its contract manufacturing partner for its introductory PEM fuel cell generators slated for field tests this spring. Logan Industries will manufacture, assemble and test a minimum of 200 PEM fuel cell power units, with delivery of the first unit planned (at press time) by May 31.
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Installation of an ONSI PC25 fuel cell at a 128-year old police station in Central Park avoided the $1.2 million cost of providing an upgraded power line. Photo courtesy of New York Power Authority.