Micro Heat, Power Plants Turn Green

Thursday, December 2, 2010 @ 08:12 AM gHale

Generating electricity and heat with no pollution, and with considerably less emission of the greenhouse gas CO2, sounds too good to be true. However, it is possible with Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC).
At least that is what the Danish National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, Risø DTU, says. The organization has researched the technology for over 20 years and the fuel cell is now on its way to reach Danish and international companies including consumers.
A SOFC fuel cell produces electricity and heat with a very high efficiency. That means less carbon emissions for each kW produced. Furthermore, the production of electricity happens with nearly no emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen and sulphur oxides. Thus, SOFC fuel cells are a strong card in the future climate-friendly energy supply. SOFC fuel cells are flat and thin as a piece of paper, providing a voltage of approx. 1 volt. They stack together to achieve the desired voltage and wattage.
Risø DTU entered into a long-term strategic cooperation agreement with Topsoe Fuel Cell, which developed fuel cell stacks into a commercial stage and is now marketing them under the name Topsoe PowerCores. Topsoe Fuel Cell has subsequently entered into a long-term cooperation agreement with the Danish company Dantherm Power, which is selling small combined heat and power (CHP) plants, among other things.
To accommodate more renewable energy, the future electricity system will look significantly different from now. Today’s large, central CHP plants will give way to numerous small CHP plants of a few kW, in each home. These micro CHP plants in homes can help balance energy in the future energy system, where more energy will be coming from renewable energy sources such as the wind and the sun. The micro CHP plants will be taking over energy production, for example, when there is no wind, and when the sun is hiding behind a cloud.
“At the moment, we are developing compact micro CHP plants, similar to a conventional oil or gas furnace when it comes to generating heat for the home. What’s new about micro CHP plants, is that they also produce the power the home needs. In this way, you avoid transmission loss in the electricity and district heating network,” said Jesper Themsen, technical director at Dantherm Power. Simultaneously, the micro CHP plants emit no or very little pollution and less carbon.
“In the spring of 2010 we produced a few micro CHP plants as part of the project ‘Danish micro cogeneration’. Now we’re doing tomorrow’s micro CHP plant in cooperation with Topsoe Fuel Cell, and in October 2010, we produced two systems that we will put into operation among professional users, for example plumbers or electricians. People with craftsman experience who can help us solve the problems that naturally arise with the plants during the first phase, ” Themsen said. The first plants will generate 1 kW of power and 1 kW of heat. Natural gas will power the plants.
“Subsequently, we will produce five micro CHP plants, which will also be put into operation among professional users. We are still in the early process of the technological launch and need to gather as much experience with these systems as possible,” Themsen said.
The micro CHP plants use Topsoe PowerCores. Dantherm Power will build the rest around them. It should be possible to add natural gas purified of sulphur and with the correct pressure. There must be a supply of fresh air, a heat exchanger and a heat store. In addition, they will incorporate the necessary electronic control for the micro CHP plant so they can connect to the grid. The micro CHP plants will have also have to gain security clearance.
Currently, micro CHP plants are the size of an overgrown American fridge. “It’s not that we cannot make them smaller, but here to start with it should not be too compact, but easy for one to supervise and maintain the various parts of the plant,” Themsen said.
Dantherm Power expects to have seven micro CHP plants in operation in early 2011, which will be in operation throughout the entire heating season and well into spring 2011.
In September 2011, Dantherm Power plans to produce 15 new micro CHP plants based on experiences from the first seven.
“They’ll be so reliable that we can install them in private homes in Southern Jutland,” Themsen said. “In 2012, we believe that SOFC micro CHP plants will be affordable and have the desired properties, allowing ordinary people to easily replace their old furnace with a SOFC micro CHP plant.”
In the long term, Themsen said fuel cell power plants will replace generators powered by diesel or gas. They see use as a backup in countries where the grid is not as stable as in Denmark.

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