Washington, D.C. — Fuel cells have been promoted as the next technological leap in the area of power production. In a new report, Stationary Fuel Cells: Future Promise, Current Hype, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) presents the benefits and disadvantages of a variety of stationary fuel cell technologies, and discusses the current and future market situation.
"We believe that fuel cells will play a significant part in the future distributed generation portfolio in the United States and worldwide, but will most likely be only one of many technologies that compete in the generation of clean, efficient electricity and thermal energy," said Anna Monis Shipley, ACEEE's Industry Program Research Associate. "Fuel cells are still in the relatively early stages of commercial development and we support continued development to improve the cost and performance of the technology."
This technology offers the potential to replace traditional combustion-based electric-generating technologies in both mobile and stationary applications. While fuel cells do hold much promise for providing clean and reliable power, the reality remains that they are still a developing technology with much room for improvement in both technical performance and cost.
Furthermore, fuel cells are not an emissions-free technology, as is frequently implied by some proponents. While much of the coverage has focused on fuel cells' ability to use hydrogen for emissions-free operation, when the hydrogen to fuel them is obtained from fossil fuels, there are still significant emissions of carbon and some other pollutants. While the United States does not currently impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions (a significant contributor to global climate change), future limits on this pollutant may in fact make other electricity-generating technologies as attractive or more attractive than fuel cells.
The ACEEE report focuses on four fuel cell technologies that have promise for providing power and thermal energy for the stationary market. The analysis includes brief technical descriptions of the various fuel cell technologies as well as descriptions of appropriate end-use applications for the various technologies. The study evaluates which technologies hold the most potential for providing reliable power and heat for processes, and includes estimates of technically and economically feasible industrial fuel cell capacity for the present through 2020. The study also explores the manufacturing service infrastructure; technical and market barriers to increased demand; and regulatory, permitting, and siting issues.
Stationary Fuel Cells: Future Promise, Current Hype (by Anna Monis Shipley and R. Neal Elliott) can be downloaded for free at http://www.aceee.org/research-report/ie041, or purchased for $18 plus $5 postage and handling from ACEEE Publications, 529 14th Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20045, phone: 202-507-4000, fax: 202-429-2248, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.