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.