Fuel cells: fuel’s gold?

We analyse the potential market for hydrogen fuel cell energy storage. Photo: Plug Power stock was not as affected as Ballard Power by the bankruptcy of the fuel cell technology company ClearEdge Power.

Is hydrogen fuel cell energy storage a good investment? Photo: Plug Power stock was not as affected as others by the bankruptcy of fuel-cell technology company ClearEdge Power.

The demise of ClearEdge Power last month raises questions over the future of a technology that has many followers yet steadfastly refuses to take off.

Fuel cells, the product commercialised by ClearEdge, have a history dating back to 1838 and a service record that includes use by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Selling them seems to be a hazardous affair, however.

In 2012, ClearEdge paid USD$48m for the fuel cell business that United Technology Corporation (UTC) had spent a reported $1bn building up.

In April this year, however, Ballard Power Systems bought around 800 UTC fuel-cell intellectual property assets, leading some observers to question what it was, exactly, that ClearEdge had purchased.

But there are doubts even over whether Ballard, one of the biggest names in the fuel cell business, can make the numbers work. Stocks in the company soared at the beginning of the last decade, when fuel cells were expected to be the next big thing in transportation.
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Energy storage news: 16.04.14

The US Department of Energy has awarded FuelCell Energy USD$3m to increase performance and decrease costs for its stationary fuel cell power plants.

The US Department of Energy has awarded FuelCell Energy USD$3m to increase performance and decrease costs for its stationary fuel cell power plants. Photo: FuelCell Energy, Inc

The main energy storage news from our Twitter feed this week.

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Could ammonia do hydrogen’s job?

Could ammonia energy storage beat hydrogen. Commercialisation of solid-state ammonia synthesis by NHThree and the Royal Silver Company puts it back in the running.

Could ammonia energy storage beat hydrogen? A solid-state ammonia synthesis project from NHThree puts it back in the running. Photo: Nadina Wiórkiewicz

A Bolivian smelter is the unlikely setting for a technology experiment that could upset hydrogen’s incipient lead as an alternative energy storage and fuel source. Last September the smelter, run by the Royal Silver Company, became the first business on the planet to commission a commercial-scale solid-state ammonia synthesis (SSAS) plant.

Along with hydrogen, ammonia has long been touted as an alternative to hydrocarbon-based fuels and can also be used for energy storage. Commercialisation of ammonia technology has thus far lagged behind that for hydrogen, however.

But with the Royal Silver Company project, which is being carried out by SSAS-patent holder NHThree of Washington State, USA, ammonia could be back in the running.

“Using SSAS, ammonia … can be synthesized directly from air and water and electricity, surpassing the current technology invented 100 years ago by which all of the world’s ammonia is made from fossils fuels, mostly natural gas,” said NHThree in a press release.

“Using SSAS, solar, wind, hydro and other sources of electricity could be converted directly into fuel, into fertilizer, and into additional ammonia that then could be converted back into electricity at night or when the wind stops blowing.”
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Energy storage news: 05.02.14

Sprint, the telecoms company, is using hydrogen fuel cell energy storage on city rooftops as a back up for it mobile networks, in a programme part-funded by the US Department of Energy.

Sprint is using hydrogen fuel cell energy storage on city rooftops as a back up for its mobile telecoms networks, in a programme part-funded by the US Department of Energy. Photo credit: Tiberiu Ana

The important energy storage news from our Twitter feed this week.

  • EnStorage Israel and Princeton Power Systems have been awarded a USD$950,000 grant from the BIRD Foundation. The grant will be used to commercialise an energy storage system based on a hydrogen bromide flow battery and inverters.

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Energy storage news: 22.01.14

The Toyota fuel-cell vehicle concept has been revealed, with vice president Bob Carter dismissing “naysayers” such as Elon Musk of Tesla Motors.

The Toyota fuel-cell vehicle concept has been revealed, with vice president Bob Carter dismissing “naysayers” such as Elon Musk of Tesla Motors. Photo credit: Toyota

The energy storage news from our Twitter feed this week.

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Areva boosts energy storage business

One of many Areva energy storage systems and technologies, the Greenergy Box consists of an electrolyser and a fuel cell. It stores hydrogen and oxygen generated by water electrolysis, allowing grid stabilisation. Photo credit: Areva

One of many Areva energy storage systems and technologies, the Greenergy Box consists of an electrolyser and a fuel cell. It stores hydrogen and oxygen generated by water electrolysis, allowing grid stabilisation. Photo credit: Areva

Areva is poised to announce its first major energy storage deal in Germany, according to Rémi Coulon, chief commercial officer at the company’s Renewables division. “We are about to announce our first client in Germany after having clients in France,” he told Energy Storage Report. “Germany is of course a key market for storage, it is where we see the most need. We are fine-tuning the press release.”
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Energy storage in port operations

Joe Pratt studies hydrogen fuel cell energy storage in ports at the Port of Oakland, California. Photo credit: Sandia National Laboratories

Joe Pratt studies hydrogen fuel cell energy storage in ports at the Port of Oakland, California. Photo credit: Sandia National Laboratories

A hidden challenge for renewable energy, in terms of carbon reductions at least, is making sure your cure is not more damaging than your disease. Many types of renewable power plants, for example, contain large amounts of concrete and cement, the production of which involves significant greenhouse gas emissions.

The emissions involved in construction, from concrete or other sources, seem rarely to be included in calculations of the environmental benefit arising from renewable energy. Yet it is not inconceivable that a wasteful enough construction process might produce more carbon emissions than a project could save over its operating lifespan.
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Encouraging signs for fuel cells

The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) and GM are jointly testing fuel cells. Photo credit: General Motors

The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) and GM are jointly testing fuel cells. Photo credit: General Motors

Last week we took a look at fuel-cell vehicles and concluded that, although they represent an exciting future prospect, they are unlikely to make a big impact any time soon. When we turn to non-vehicle fuel cell energy storage, the signs are much more promising, as we’ll see in this concluding part of our analysis.
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