Monday, May 28, 2012

Fuelcell can become a commercial reality


We currently generate electric city from heat, obtained by combustion of fossil fuel such as coal, oil and gas. But such combustion generates not only heat but also greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide and oxides of Nirogen.The only alternative to generate power without any greenhouse gas emission is to use a fuel with zero carbon. However, oxides of Nitrogen will still be an issue as long as we use air for combustion because atmospheric air contains almost 79% Nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Therefore it becomes necessary to use an alternative fuel as well as an alternative power generation technology in the future to mitigate greenhouse problems. Hydrogen is an ideal fuel to mitigate greenhouse gases because combustion of Hydrogen with oxygen from air generates only water that is recyclable. Combining Hydrogen with Oxygen using Fuel cell, an electrochemical device is certainly an elegant solution to address greenhouse problems. But why Hydrogen and Fuel cell are not commonly available? Hydrogen is not available freely even though it is abundantly available in nature. It is available as a compound such as water (H2O) or Methane (CH4) and Ammonia (NH3). First we have to isolate Hydrogen from this compound as free Hydrogen and then store it under pressure. Hydrogen can easily form an explosive mixture with Oxygen and it requires careful handling. Moreover it is a very light gas and can easily escape. It has to be compressed and stored under high pressure. Generation of pure Hydrogen from water using Electrolysis requires more electricity that it can generate. However, Hydrogen cost can be reduced using renewable energy source such as solar thermal. The solar thermal can also supply thermal energy for decomposing Ammonia into Hydrogen and Nitrogen as well as to supply endothermic heat necessary for steam reformation of natural gas into Hydrogen. Onsite Hydrogen generation using solar thermal using either electricity or heat can currently become a commercial reality. Hydrogen generation at higher temperatures such as Ammonia decomposition or steam reformation can be directly used in Fuel cell such as Phosphoric acid Fuel cell. Phosphoric acid fuel cell is a proven and tested commercial Fuel cell that is currently used for base load power generation. It is also used for CHP applications. Hydrogen generation using solar thermal and power generation using Fuel cell is already a commercial reality and also an elegant solution to mitigate greenhouse gases. Large scale deployment of Fuel cell and solar thermal will also reduce the cost of installations and running cost competing with fossil fuel.Fuecell technology has a potential to become a common solution for both power generation and transportation. While Government can encourage renewable energy by subsidizing PV solar panels and discourage fossil fuel by imposing carbon tax, they should give preference and higher tariff for power purchase from Solar thermal and Fuel cell power generators. This will encourage large scale deployment of Fuel cell as a potential base load power source.