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.