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ClearEdge Power and PNNL in $2.8M project to test fuel-cell combined heat and power

ClearEdge Power and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are teaming in a $2.8-million combined industry and government award to test fuel-cell-based combined heat and power systems. ClearEdge will install its ClearEdge5 system at 10 different businesses in California and Oregon, while PNNL will monitor the systems and measure the energy savings.

The DOE share is around $1.2 million and the industry share (ClearEdge and their partners) is around $1.6 million. The federal portion of funding for the award was provided by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Fuel Cell Technologies Program.

Combined heat and power fuel cell systems can help smaller commercial buildings with high energy demands reap significant savings in energy cost and use. We anticipate that this type of a system could reduce the fuel costs and carbon footprint of a commercial building by approximately 40 percent, compared with conventional electricity and heat use.

—Mike Rinker, the research program manager at PNNL

The ClearEdge5 system is a little larger than a typical home’s refrigerator and is fueled by natural gas from existing, conventional pipelines. A Fuel Processor in the system reforms the natural gas into ultra-clean hydrogen through a catalytic process. ClearEdge uses a PBI-based PEM fuel cell to convert the hydrogen to electricity. This PEM operates around 160 °C; this is a relatively low-temperature fuel cell compared to a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) which runs between 600°C–1,000°C.

Once the hydrogen is processed through a Fuel Cell Stack, it creates direct current (DC) power and heat. The Power Conditioning Unit converts the DC electricity into alternating current (AC), which ties directly to a facility’s main electrical panel. The heat produced by the fuel cell is transferred to the building through the use of a hydronic system or a heat exchanger, supplying a continuous source of heating for domestic hot water as well as space or radiant heating.

Excess electricity produced, but not consumed by the building, is then sold back to a local utility company. While the ClearEdge5 is not currently grid independent, future systems are being designed to operate during a grid outage, giving companies a continuous power advantage.

Each ClearEdge5 unit will have a high-speed Internet data feed, allowing researchers at PNNL continuous access to analyze each installation’s performance. PNNL will independently verify and analyze the engineering, economic and environmental performance and carbon footprint of these systems during the next five years. Then PNNL will provide its analysis in a report to DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program.


Henry Gibson

Cogeneration where natural gas is being burned is the quickest to implement and a very low cost way of reducing CO2 release. It it far cheaper and simpler to implement and operate than ethanol from corn per unit CO2 not released.

Buildings and water can be cooled as well as electricity produced from the waste heat produced in cogeneration processes. No commercial steam power plants should be built that use natural gas, but the gas should be used in cogeneration systems in buildings.

Climate Energy and others even sell cogeneration systems for homes. One of the strangest one is the steam OTAG LION.

Capstone turbines makes units for large buildings as does the Carrier division of UTC. These units are cheaper and probably as efficient as the fuel cell units.

Because natural gas pipes, microturbines, computer control, power semiconductors, and long life batteries exist, there is no economic reason to connect a large or some small buildings to the electric grid unless it is to feed power into the grid. The first cost of cogeneration systems is high but lower operational costs repay that extra expense. ..HG..


PEM operates around 160 °C

When an HTPEM operates above water boiling point the balance of system components are reduced making it simpler and cost less. The CHP idea is a good one and now that they operate at this temperature they can use absorption cooling instead of air conditioning that uses electricity.


Henry you and I are on the same plane. I am proposing CHP in large and small industry and residential. The Japanese have gone far to develop this technology - though it's still in its infancy.

Large buildings like the Bank of America tower in NYC produce up to 70% of their own electricity via a 4.6 MW cogen unit. And they cool the air with chiller ice and use excess heat for area and hot water heating.


CHP is a stopgap, but a very worthwhile one.

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