A $2.8 million industry and government award was recently announced for the installation of a new generation of fuel cells into a grocery store, greenhouse, hotel and community college. The government portion of the funding is coming from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Fuel Cell Technologies Program.
ClearEdge Power will offer its fuel cell technology – ClearEdge5 – in 10 different buildings across California and Oregon. The system itself is the size of a refrigerator and is fueled by natural gas from pre-existing pipelines. Natural gas is converted into a hydrogen-rich gas that reacts to the oxygen, thus creating electricity and heat. According to Mike Rinker, researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL), “this type of a system could reduce the fuel costs and carbon footprint of a commercial building by approximately 40 percent.”
PNNL will monitor the various systems and see if the energy savings match up to their expectations. Each ClearEdge5 system is hooked up to a high-speed Internet data feed for easy monitoring. In the next five years, PNNL will analyze the data, engineering, economic and environmental performance of each unit. This analysis will then be submitted to the DOE for final approval to commercialize the unit.
While the test group is rather small, any significant savings in electricity and heat would be welcome to many small commercial owners as well as homeowners. Not only can the heat be used for the building, but also for hot water. Excess electricity can be sold back to the energy providers. The current ClearEdge5 does not offer grid independence, but future designs are designed in case of power outages.