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December 2017

FUEL CELL POWERPLANTS TAKING UP THE SLACK


Despite the efforts of the Trump administration production of electrical power is rapidly shifting from burning fossil fuels - primarily petroleum, natural gas and coal - to renewable energy sources. And, while most of us are familiar with solar and wind power another new technology is now growing and showing great promise. This technology, known as fuel cells, is not brand new but the growth of fuel cell powerplants is accelerating daily.

One major reason, according to information provided by Direct Fuel Cell®, a leader in the field, is that "Direct FuelCell®power plants are generating ultra-clean, efficient and reliable power at locations worldwide. With approximately 300 megawatts of power generation capacity installed or in backlog, FuelCell Energy is a global leader in providing ultra-clean baseload distributed generation to utilities, industrial operations, universities, municipal water treatment facilities, government installations and other customers around the world.

Although fuel cells are a cutting-edge technology, they are fairly simple in theory and practical application. According to an article published on the Slate.com website, Fuel cells produce electrical power by passing a fuel, primarily hydrogen, through a cell. This triggers electrochemical reactions that produce electricity, heat, and water. It's a quiet, environmentally friendly system. This process produces only minute quantities of nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxides, environmental toxins that are produced in huge quantities by conventional power production. Its primary byproduct is water and very little of that.

Even better, the fuel cell plants powered by hydrogen generate almost no carbon dioxide. Fuel cell plants can also use natural gas. These, produce about 60 percent fewer toxic emissions than conventional powerplants.

Additional benefits include reduced land requirements, reduced transmission and distribution costs and the fact that fuel cells have the highest electrical efficiency of any similar-sized baseload power generation technologies. Automobiles using this technology are becoming available from many manufacturers and have been tested in a variety of aircraft and have also been utilized in spacecraft.

Industrial facilities are also using fuel cells powerplants in many less exotic ways. Microsoft, with several partners, is now building fuel cell powered data centers, facilities which must provide customers with fail safe uninterrupted electrical power production. Because of their scalability fuel cells are also under development by the US Department of Defense for battlefield and support equipment.

Fortunately, fuel cell technology is not the only growing player in the renewable energy revolution. And, like fuel cell technology, these new players are scalable - they can grow as demand and infrastructure increase. They can also be "downsized" for use in remote areas and in virtually any residential application.

One of these is known as biogas. Biogas is a fuel that, on a home level, can utilize food waste and other organic wastes to make a liquid fuel.

According to the website www.homebiogas.com, "Homebiogas is an off-grid system that generates clean energy without any electricity AND allows you to properly treat your household waste! The system produces up to 2 hours of cooking gas every day solely from your food scraps or animal waste." The image here details how this process works, much more information is available through the website.

It is clear that a great deal of energy is being expended in the development and deployment of a variety of renewable energy technologies. These breakthroughs are industrial scale, are proven by real-life experience, and can be utilized to help us move forward to make them ubiquitous and effective. Unfortunately, for us in the US, and everyone around the world President Trump continues to ignore the promise of renewable technologies. He continues to insist that global warming is a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese. This insanity does make our tasks more difficult but it is certain that our progress will last much longer than Trump will.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Conservation is always the first and often best way to get started in reducing our use of our electricity. Solar hot water heaters and photovoltaic equipment can reduce electrical use in homes and commercial buildings. In some cases, these applances can reduce relicance on commercial electricity to near zero. These and other innovative small-scale appliances are readily available and affordable.

For those of us who have a desire to act on a larger scale two avenues remain open and effective. It is possible to work within large industrial and commercial operations and move them towards adoption of appropriately scaled systems. Often all it takes is a motivated individual to start the ball rolling. For examples of renewable energy campaigns in large concerns CLICK HERE. For a recent report on a project involving a fuelcell project partnership between Microsoft and the State of Wyoming CLICK HERE.