On February 16, 2011, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), House Fuel Cell and Hydrogen CaucusCalifornia Fuel Cell Partnership, and Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association held a briefing about the status of commercial deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen. Fuel cells, which can be used as stationary power sources or to power vehicles, convert fuel and oxygen into electricity, with water and heat as the only byproducts. At this briefing, experts discussed the state of stationary fuel cell system, fuel cell vehicle, and hydrogen infrastructure development; challenges to wide spread deployment; economic and environmental benefits; and opportunities for industry and government to develop partnerships to accelerate commercial deployment across the nation.

  • Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) remarked, “Hydrogen and fuel cells offer a great opportunity for the future of this country as we try and transition away from oil from the Middle East – hydrogen is a big part of the solution.”
  • Hydrogen can be generated by reforming natural gas or biogas, biomass gasification, or electrolysis (separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen) powered by solar energy or other sources of electricity.
  • Fuel cell and hydrogen technologies are viable and commercially available now, but to be successful in the near future, development costs need to be reduced and infrastructure needs to expand dramatically.
  • Stationary fuel cells used as electrical generators offer efficient, clean, reliable, and regenerative power. They offer over 50 percent efficiency for fuel to electricity conversion, better than any other conversion device of its size.
  • Stationary fuel cells are presently being commercially deployed by Coca-Cola, Google, Wal-Mart, Fed-Ex, e-Bay, and many others to provide energy for tasks such as grocery store refrigeration, data center operations, and materials handling. The U.S. military uses fuel cell technologies for powering un-manned vehicles and maintenance for non-tactical operations.
  • The waste heat from stationary fuel cells can be used for space heating, water heating, or industrial processes.
  • Major players in the megawatt stationary fuel cell class are phosphoric acid fuel cells produced by United Technologies in Connecticut, molten carbonate fuel cells produced by Fuel Cell Energy Co. in Connecticut, and solid oxide fuel cells from Bloom Energy in California.
  • The Santa Barbara Wastewater Treatment Plant uses two fuel cells that total 500 kW, saving $301,500 in annual electric utility costs and reducing carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide emissions.
  • Since 1999, 359 fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been deployed in California; these vehicles have been driven 3.5 million miles cumulatively. FCVs are part of a portfolio of cleaner vehicle and fuel options that will help the state meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050.
  • Mercedes Benz has released its B-Class with a fuel cell power train. The carbon emissions from a 20,000 mile journey with this car are equivalent to those from 3.5 minutes of German traffic.
  • A fueling station under construction in Emeryville, California will generate hydrogen from both solar electrolysis and a natural gas reformer, and will serve buses and cars. A station in Fountain Valley, California will be the first to use 100 percent biogas (from an adjacent wastewater treatment facility) to make its hydrogen.
  • FCVs offer ranges similar to those of combustion engine vehicles: 250-400 miles. Hydrogen currently costs more than gasoline, but FCVs are 2-3 times more efficient than combustion engine vehicles, making the two fuels cost-competitive.

Fuel cell vehicles are 2-3 times more efficient than combustion engine vehicles, and have zero emissions. Stationary fuel cells are in use now in grocery stores, hotels and apartment buildings. Most hydrogen is produced from domestic natural gas, but increasingly hydrogen is made with renewable energy such as solar, wind, biogas and biomass. California leads the nation in fuel cell deployment, with more than 300 fuel cell vehicles on the road, 50 forklifts in operation, and dozens of stationary fuel cells in use; 39 states have active hydrogen or fuel cell vehicle initiatives and demonstration programs. The U.S. Department of Energy projects a mature fuel cell and hydrogen market could lead to a net increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide by 2050.