Mixed Greens: Ceramic Fuel Cells pens big deal for German grid

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600 BlueGEN units to be installed across German grid by 2015. Plus: Japan’s ‘fire ice’ coup; BNEF’s biofuels call; and Senate calls for green commissioner.

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ASX-listed fuel cell maker Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd has signed a letter of intent for a strategic partnership with German grid operator, Alliander, which will see up to 600 of Ceramic’s BlueGEN systems installed across Alliander’s regional grid by 2015. Alliander, an early adopter of Ceramic’s fuel cell technology in Germany, which it claims to be using to advance the cause of decentralised energy provision, is no doubt also taking advantage of the various subsidy policies Germany has in place to encourage the uptake of micro combined heat and power units like Ceramic’s BlueGEN.

Ceramic Fuel Cells said in a release on Wednesday that Alliander would initially focus on the Heinsberg region in North-Rhine Westphalia – a state which announced, last October, a scheme to pay a capital subsidy to commercial customers and Energy Service Companies who installed mCHP products of less than 50kW. It then plans to move to the national level in a second phase of deployment, and says it will top up national and regional subsidy schemes to make the installation of BlueGEN units financially more attractive to clients connected to Alliander’s grid.

Ceramic has also begun to see other benefits of the North-Rhine Westphalia subsidy scheme, with the first commercial application for finance, made by a local bakery, approved last week. Ceramic says the applicant was granted €13,000 towards the purchase of one BlueGEN unit – amounting to 65 per cent of the investment costs. Ceramic CEO Bob Kennett said the BlueGEN gas-to-power unit would help the bakery halve its running electricity costs.

In other news…

Japan claims to have achieved a world first, with the successfully extraction of gas from deposits of methane hydrate, aka “fire ice,” stored 1km under the Pacific Ocean off central Japan. The little-understood energy source – a fossil fuel that looks like ice but is actually densely-packed methane surrounded by water molecules – is being touted as an alternative to known oil and gas reserves, a development that could prove crucial for Japan, as the world’s biggest importer of LNG which is also trying to wean itself from nuclear power. There is limited understanding, however, of how drilling for hydrates might affect the environment, particularly the possible release of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that developers of second generation biofuels – those made from non-food crops and waste material, as opposed to food crops like corn – are on track to deliver fuels that are cost-competitive with ethanol and conventional fossil fuels by the second half of this decade. The study, which surveyed leading developers of cellulosic biofuels found that the falling cost of enzymes and fermentation processes means they expect to achieve cost parity by 2016.

A Senate committee has rejected a private members bill – moved last November by Greens senator Larissa Waters – that would have prevented the federal government from handing some of its environmental powers to the states. The Committee, which released its report in Tuesday, instead urged the the government to set up a National Environment Commission. It also warned that any streamlining or strengthening of environmental laws must meet Australia’s national and international obligations to protect natural icons, resources and biodiversity.

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8 Comments
  1. Beat Odermatt 7 years ago

    Ceramic Fuel Cells certainly provide a technological answer to a number of challenges facing the power industry. They provide for a better energy efficiency and enables decentralised power generation close to the end use. Power companies do not need to spend Billions of Dollars to buy land, build massive power stations, transmission lines and transformers. The installation of Ceramic Fuel Cell units provides a win-win situation to the user of energy and the consumer. If the power company has the ability to source gas from its own sources as is the case in Australia with a few electricity companies, the technology provides for additional secure markets for its products. I can see cooler areas of Australia where space heating may be required as a “jumping off” point for such technology.

  2. Dave Johnson 7 years ago

    According to the fine print on the BlueGen website, their equipment emits .340 Kg of carbon per MWH of electricity produced, which is about what you would expect from an efficient gas-powered generator of any sort. This is one third the emissions of a coal-fired power plant, but it is hardly emissions-free, even if it is a very efficient approach.

    Also, their website is less than perfectly honest about the chemistry involved, in that they imply that their emissions are reduced because there is no high-temperature combustion in the process. However, chemically the net result is the same: for every molecule of methane going in, you will have a molecule of CO2 coming out. Just as you would in a conventional combustion process.

    This is not to say that higher efficiency is not a good idea, as far as it goes, and capturing the waste heat for water and space heating certainly milks the chemistry for all it is worth. However, buying one of their systems is still a multi-decade capital investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, which is still a dumb idea. It’s better than investing in coal, but that is hardly a positive recommendation, given today’s circumstances. The real solution to the problem is to leave the gas in the ground, where it belongs.

    • Dave Johnson 7 years ago

      That should read 340 Kg per MWH, or .340 per KWH, not .340 per MWH.

    • Dave Johnson 7 years ago

      Come to think of it, if you insist on using fossil methane as an energy source, then the most effective technology would be a perfectly ordinary gas-fired hot-air furnace. Modern designs claim 90 to 95 percent efficiency, and the technology is a mature, inexpensive commodity. Plus, every licensed HVAC technician in the world already knows how to service the equipment correctly, and the global supply chains are already in place.

      In contrast, BlueGen claims only 60% efficiency from the electrical generation, and that only goes up to 85% if the waste heat is captured and used. Also, the technology is new and expensive, the technicians will all have to go back to school, and the supply chains are only starting to be built.

      So, all that investment to use a fuel source that will likely be almost obsolete in another decade or two, and, in a sane world, would be illegal right now.

      But, hey, who am I to criticize? I’m just a guy who made a sincere effort to stay awake in Freshman Chemistry.

      • Beat Odermatt 7 years ago

        Ceramic Fuel Cells still provide the environmentally best solution after energy conservation and using renewable energy. To say that gas should remain in the ground forever compares in logic to letting babies choosing Billionaires as parents. Ceramic Fuel Cells is a major technological and commercial answer to many problems. The increase of electricity production can be gradual, decentralised and does not require Billions of Dollars of upfront financing. Massive large power stations remain a tool of outdated 19th century capitalism, as it forces people and Government into energy dependency. Large power station do also allow power price manipulation. If a few Ceramic Fuel Cells break down or need maintenance, it does not cause massive price spike as under the current power distribution systems.
        There is NOT A SINGLE power station in the world which produces anything close the efficiency of a Ceramic Fuel Cells. That is before distribution and heat losses are taken into consideration.

        • Dave Johnson 7 years ago

          Why does anyone think I am some sort of apologist for centralized power stations? Much less coal-fired plants?

          My overall point was simply that BlueGen is less efficient than ordinary gas furnaces, which are hardly being touted as “green technology”. Plus, BlueGen’s technology is apparently expensive. So, it is apparently just a very pricey way to lock in another couple of decades of gas consumption, which I think is a very bad idea.

          I fully agree that efficiency is the best bet, with renewables right behind.

          Also, quite ironically, the power I get from my local power company has no more carbon per MWH than that coming from BlueGen. That’s because there is a big ugly nuclear reactor just down the road that supplies 28% of the local power, and thus cuts the carbon footprint of the whole grid by a large margin.

          I’m no fan of nuclear, by any means, but the thing will wear out in another fifteen or twenty years, and by then there will be sufficient renewables to replace it at a favorable price, so at least we have already gotten rid of a lot of carbon emissions that will never come back into the system.

          We just need to avoid a meltdown in the meantime, and most people live upwind of the thing in any case. Downwind being open ocean.

    • Robert Wong 7 years ago

      If you favour coal powered electricity station, there is substantial lost in the transmission. The solution offered is far superior to what is available in the market at the moment. Solar is generating power during the day whereas the peak hours are between 6 to 10pm.

  3. Vishwas Gokhale 7 years ago

    We are lookig for application fuel cells in rural areas in India which are facing problems of both electricity, as well as cooking gas. We are a consultant for setting up biogas plant along with the upgrading plant which upgrades biogas to 97 % of methane content. We are providing connections to indivdual households for cooking purpose. A rural household requires about 5 units (kwh) of electricity per day. which should be available with 1.5 cum of raw biogas. If the wasteheat can be recovered and circulated with heating oil and used in jacketed cooking vessels it will serve both purposes. This type of local power generation will solve both transmission and distribution problems in rural india. There is no point in trying these gadgets in energy rich countries along with with subsidy.

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