Fuel Cell Could Smooth Wind-Power Gusts

What to do when breezes are blowing but demand for energy from a wind-power plant is low? In Herten, Germany, the plan is to use a hydrogen energy storage system to essentially grab that wind power and hold it until it’s needed.

The process is pretty simple, actually: Power from a wind plant will be used to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen. That hydrogen will then be stored and later used by fuel cells to produce clean electricity when it’s needed.

wind to fuel cell storage, Hydrogenics

image via Hydrogenics

Now according to the National Renewable Energy Lab, this method of creating hydrogen is expensive. And if they weren’t planning to use excess power from wind generation in Herten, the whole process would be far more expensive than, say, powering a fuel cell with natural gas, the way the popular Bloom Boxes often operate. But in a situation where wind power is available and would otherwise go to waste, well, why not go for it?

“Electrolyzing water into hydrogen using excess intermittent renewable energy is the optimal clean pathway to smart grid stabilization and energy storage capacity. It has real advantages over alternative energy storage solutions,” said Daryl Wilson, president and CEO of Hydrogenics, the company doing the project. “We are very pleased that such a globally recognized hydrogen cluster as the City of Herten has awarded us the opportunity to demonstrate this capability.”

According to Hydrogenics, Herten is a “major German hydrogen cluster for electro-mobility as well as renewable energy projects,” so there are a number of ways the 50-kilowatt fuel cell power system, to be installed next year, might be used. “From storage,” Hydrogenics said, “the energy will be redeployed through fuel cells as electricity to the grid, or be used to fuel zero carbon emission vehicles and other devices such as industrial equipment.”

Editor’s note: This story was edited after its initial publication to clarify that no combustion takes place in natural-gas powered Bloom Boxes, which of course use natural gas in an electrochemical process.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply November 1, 2011


    this method of creating hydrogen is a lot more expensive than, say, producing the hydrogen by burning natural gas, the way the popularu00a0Bloom Boxesu00a0usually do it. But in a situation whereu00a0wind poweru00a0is available and would otherwise go to waste, well, why not go for it?nGET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT MR. EDITOR… FIRST OF ALL YOU DO NOT “BURN” NATURAL GAS TO GET HYDROGEN!nSECONDLY “THE WAY BLOOM BOXES DO IT”??? u00a0ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? u00a0YOU MUST BE ONE OF THOSE HACK WRITERS WHO GETS FUNDED BY THE OIL ASSOC. OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. u00a0WOW… FUNNY! u00a0DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND GOOGLE: FUEL CELL TECHNOLOGY.

  • Reply November 2, 2011

    Pete Danko

    Hi, Jeff –nnThanks for your comment. I was trying to make that point that Bloom Boxes use natural gas. But I understand what youu2019re saying u2013 u00a0itu2019s a chemical process at work in a Bloom Box (albeit at very high temperatures), not combustion, with hydrogen ions essentially being stripped from natural gas. It would have been better to say that creating hydrogen via wind power to power a fuel cell is more expensive u201cthan powering a hydrogen fuel cell with natural gas, as most Bloom Boxes do.u201d There certainly wasnu2019t intent on my part to dis the Bloom Box (if thatu2019s what you meant by u201cfunded by the oil assoc.u201d); by all accounts, Bloom Boxes are a more efficient than usual way of producing electricity from natural gas, emitting, I believe, around 30 percent less greenhouse gases. And some already are and many more can use clean biogas. And, who knows, down the road we might be able to feed them pure hydrogen by using solar u2013 or wind! u2013 to split good old water molecules.nnnPete

  • Reply November 2, 2011

    Peter O'Connor

    My only worry is the effect of wind-turbines on nature – especially birds and bats.

  • Reply November 4, 2011


    How about storing the energy as compressed air right in the tower? u00a0Seems incredibly effective and low-cost to me. u00a0More details here:u00a0http://www.commentous.com/comments/6003

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