Fuel Cells

U.S. Fuel Cell Market Size,
by Application (Units)

Tech Fuel Cell
Source: grandviewresearch.com

Fuel cells use a chemical reaction to extract energy from fuel instead of using combustion. Typically fuel cells will combine oxygen, natural gas, and a catalyst at high pressure between a cathode and anode. The outputs of the process are energy, steam and carbon dioxide. A fuel cell system is best utilized running constantly as a primary source of power and can be scaled up for large usage.

Fuel cells are not considered 100% green because of their use of natural gas. The system releases carbon dioxide when using natural gas as the feedstock, but it does so at a substantially lower rate than combine cycle natural gas turbines. Also, fuel cells do not produce harmful sulfuric and nitrogen oxides (SOx, NOx) and thus are significantly cleaner than standard diesel generators and even grid energy. Fuel cells can be configured to run using hydrogen gas instead of natural gas in which case they will only release steam.

The biggest challenge for the adoption of fuel cells that run solely on hydrogen gas is the high cost of the energy necessary to create the hydrogen gas. It is an energy-intensive process to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen and then use the hydrogen to produce energy. Likewise, capturing the carbon from a natural gas process is not currently cost-effective, though innovation in this area continues.

The levelized cost of energy from fuel cells is becoming much more competitive with current retail rates charged by utilities, particularly in coastal states. In many business cases, it makes sense to consider fuel cells, particularly if facilities are using large amounts of energy at high rates.