Fuel Cell 2005 Conference review, Part 1...
World Fuel Cell Demand to Reach US$2.6 Billion in 2009
by Shirley and Donald Georgi
The June 2005 Conference, Fuel Cell 2005, highlighted advancements in fuel cell applications and technology on the industry’s quest toward commercialization in the next five to ten years.
Topics discussed at the conference are listed in the following general categories.
• General trends
• PEM fuel cells
• SOFC fuel cells
• Regulatory issues
• Backup power
• Hybrid buses with ICE
• Forklifts (motive power)
• Power conditioning
• Membranes & Misc. items
In this issue and ensuing months, BD will summarize information presented at the conference ( Fuel Cell 2005, Jun 7-8, 2005, Hyatt Regency , Minneapolis, MN, USA, organized by Webcom CommunicationsCorp.) This month we focus on the topics of Motive Power, Power Conditioning, and Solid Oxide Fuel Cells as discussed at the conference.
A Growth Market
At the Battery Council International (BCI) Convention in April 2005, there was good news about U.S. motive power trends. The Lead-acid industry reported that the battery market for forklift trucks increased by 17 percent in 2004. Equipment spending for 2004 increased at a rapid pace. In early 2004, BCI projected that the motive power segment would only grow by 8 percent, but that figure nearly doubled by year end. The 2004 North American battery sales in motive power totaled $513 million.
The motive power market is dominated by industrial lift trucks. (See chart on 2004 North American Sales of Motive Power.) Most of these trucks are in material handling fleets which serve in a dedicated location and environment and perform specific tasks. This market is gradually increasing and by the end of this year (2005), the Lead-acid industry anticipates a six percent growth will be achieved. (See chart on Motive Power Battery Trends.)
The fuel cell community views this market as one with great potential for its industry. In fact, Chris Reid, President of Cellex Power Products, Inc., stated, “”Lift truck fleet operations will be one of the first applications to adopt fuel cells on a commercial basis and are the stepping-stone towards the widespread adoption of fuel cells in the transportation market where hundreds of millions of vehicles are in service.” (Statement made on June 15, 2005 when Cellex Power Products signed a contract for $9.5 million funding assistance with the technology Partnerships of Canada for Research and Development of a family of hybrid fuel cell products for use in industrial vehicles.)
Competing with Lead-acid
1) The first of three presentations on this topic at Fuel Cell 2005 was entitled “Integrating Fuel Cell Hybrid Technology into Forklift Trucks” by Bruce Townson, Director of Corporate Development, Hydrogenics. Mr. Townson provided a positive rationale for fuel cells in solving material handling problems. He noted the value proposition for fuel cell-powered forklifts was dominated by production improvements.
• Productivity - reduces time spent recharging or swapping out batteries and maintains peak performance throughout a shift through consistent Voltage output level.
• Safety - reduces injuries by eliminating the swapping out of discharged batteries
• Maintenance - eliminates need to water batteries
Although Lead-acid batteries are inexpensive in comparison to fuel cells, he noted that in examining the total cost of ownership (TCO) for battery-operated forklifts, the costliest item was in labor - a whopping 96 percent. In a study comparing the operation of forklifts utilizing batteries with rapid charging versus fuel cells, Hydrogenics found that the fuel cell power pack provided an 8% increase in uptime (vs. downtime). He commented that the percentage may seem small, but in a month’s time, the improvement can represent approximately $1,515 in truck labor savings. (See graph, “Fuel Cell Power Pack Provides 8% Increase in Uptime.”)
A Demonstration Test - Hydrogenics partnered with Hyster Corporation, a manufacturer of lift trucks, to build two fuel cell-powered lift truck prototypes which were tested at a General Motors’ (GM) plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada between January 17, and April 8, 2005. A standard electric truck was retrofitted with a Hydrogenics’ fuel cell power pack.
One of the highlights of this demonstration was Hydrogenics on-site hydrogen generation system (HyLYZER) which was the world’s first deployed indoor H2 (hydrogen) refueler. The HyLYZER electrolyzer used GM facility’s electricity and water to produce hydrogen. Because of the indoor refueling, approval from the Canadian Standards Bureau was required. Deployment statistics showed that the fuel cell forklifts consumed approximately 2.8 kg of H2 per day when operated for 24 hours (3 shifts); this savings translated into only two refuelings per day. Time spent refueling was very minimal; one refueling took about two minutes for a truck in operation during one and one/half shifts (12 hrs. total).
The next phase of testing fuel cell hybrid forklifts will be at the Fedex facility in the Toronto area. Real-time data will be collected as well as data on user validation.
Mr. Townson stated that early fuel cell deployments will require an integrated approach. The designed systems will be hybrid solutions with ultracapacitors and/or batteries. (See diagram entitled “3 Benefits Drive Focus on Hybrid Power Solutions.”) Hydrogenics’ primary emphasis is on developing fuel cell-hybrid-ultracapacitor forklifts for indoor warehouse and manufacturing facilities.
Hydrogenics is currently working with other large material handling businesses to enable further evaluation of the technology and the market potential for all partners. Their offerings in demonstrations to partnering companies will be fuel cell power modules ranging in power outputs from 7 - 65 kiloWatts.
2) Charlie Myers, Director of Marketing for Nuvera Fuel Cells, concentrated his discussion on “Industrial Hydrogen Generation Infrastructure for Fuel Cell Hybrid Forklift Trucks.” Because hydrogen is produced and sold as a chemical commodity and not as an energy carrier, it is important that special hydrogen dispensing units be developed for high-efficiency compact fuel processing on-site at the material handling plants where forklifts are in continuous use. To meet this need, Nuvera has developed PowerTapTM, a hydrogen generation system. The unit uses national gas and can fill 2.6 kg of H2 in less than 5 minutes.
Nuvera has a first commercial offering, a 5 kW hydrogen fuel cell power module system for material handling and ground support equipment. John Deere is currently testing and evaluating a 5.5 kW H2eTM fuel cell power module as a potential future power source in off-road equipment. The unit is well-suited to battery hybrid applications.
Early in 2005, Nuvera partnered with East Penn, a Lead-acid manufacturing company in the U.S., to develop a hybrid battery/fuel cell electric “engine” to power lift trucks and other off-road industrial vehicles used in material handling.
3) Steve Medwin, Manager of Advanced Research for The Raymond Corporation, believes that productivity of warehouses, using fork lift trucks, can be improved if the truck manufacturers look to fuel cell powered units as an answer. In his presentation, “Application of Fuel Cells to Lift Trucks,” he listed many of the same “pros” of fuel cell-power over Lead-acid battery-power that Bruce Townson from Hydrogenics discussed. He emphasized the added operating costs such as the 30 minute time for battery exchange after four to eight hours of usage. Fuel cell-powered units, on the other hand, may not need refueling before being used for eight hours or longer, and even then, the time for refueling would take only a few minutes. “The bottom line is productivity,” he noted.
In designing a forklift truck, his message to the manufacturers and fuel cell system suppliers was to keep the location and size of the fuel cell system compartment the same as the battery compartment This would include the fuel cell, hydrogen storage, controls and counterweight; these package components must also match the same center of gravity and weight that would be utilized by batteries.
Once again, the “hybrid concept” was reemphasized to include a battery and/or ultra capacitor because forklifts need additional power for some lifting operations. Since fuel cells provide a steady flow of current, another power source is needed to provide that surge of power when needed.
Although commercialization for fuel-cell powered forklifts could take place in the next five years, there are issues to address:
• Fuel cells must meet or exceed battery performance in terms of life and reliability.
• There still remains technical challenges to create improved membrane designs for fuel cells as well as to lower costs of producing the fuel cells and stacks.
• The fuel (hydrogen) handling, safety and delivery must be tailored and meet Standards for indoor (i.e., warehouse) operations.
• The cost to get the hydrogen to dedicated facilities need, to be addressed.
• Management and individuals working in daily operations will need to look at new policies and practices.
• Dollars will need to be put into training and warehouse design as well as new fuel-cell powered forklifts.
But the improvements in the productivity for forklift trucks in the material handing industry are the drivers behind the arduous work being put forth in this area. Fuel cell companies and their partners are committed to create an avenue for commercialization in this market.
Designing Power Conditioning Systems for Fuel Cells, Dr. Prasad Enjeti, Engineer, Fuel Cell Power Systems Laboratory, Texas A&M University: In a natural gas powered fuel cell system, the power conditioning can constitute more than 1/3 of the system. Whether in size or cost, this component of the system must be accommodated because the raw DC electricity from a fuel cell usually needs to be converted to AC or to a different DC Voltage, or it must be a buffer from the slow-to-change power output of a fuel cell to the transient loading which an automotive or electronic device may place on the system.
The presentation by Dr. Enjeti went into details on conversion and conditioning in automotive, computer and stationary systems. A significant goal in the DOE Freedom CAR program is to drop the power conditioning cost to $12/kW (peak). Present inverters cost $150-$450/kW. Semiconductor costs have dropped over the years but offer a challenge in further power system cost reduction. Efficiencies are in the mid 90% region, so significant improvements here may be difficult to obtain. Certainly, economies of scale may drop conditioning costs.
Safety standards are a major concern, but fuel cell power conditioning can ride on the coattails of the photovoltaic business which already has standards in commercial and residential applications. The standards developed by UL, VDE and the IEEE directly apply to fuel cell systems used in these applications. (See UL standard 1741, VDE 0126, IEEE 929-2000 and 1547-2003.)
Texas A & M has a membership program for fuel cell organizations. Design review, consulting, simulation and testing are provided.
Solid Oxide Fuel Cells
Integrated Testing of a CPOX Reformer & SOFC, Lyman J Frost, Director, Special Energy Projects, Idaho National Laboratory: Cost is one of the two major hurdles for fuel cells, Mr. Frost addressed the issue by citing an application where fuel cells can be more cost competitive by taking advantage of their increased efficiency. In the remote villages of Alaska, the total cost of supplying a gallon of diesel fuel is in the neighborhood of $4.00. (This figure is probably more with our recent runup in fuel prices.) As an example, Lime Village, Alaska uses two diesel generators to provide a peak load of 60 kW for under 400 people. Access to the village is only by river or aircraft. Because of Alaska’s pristine environment, its preservation is a necessity. The higher efficiency of the fuel cell system would be a perfect solution for this area. Considering all of Alaska, which in the year 2000 generated 391 GWh from diesel, there is a potential for saving up to $60 million/year with the greater efficiency of fuel cell systems. (Ed note: It is assumed that this savings comes only from the higher electrical generating efficiency and not in the recovery of heat for hot water and dwelling warmth - factors which would add to the savings.)
Using a fuel cell with the existing fuel source means adding a reformer for diesel fuel, so the study included a CPOX (Catalytic Partial OXidation) reformer to convert diesel to hydrogen. The ouput reformed hydrogen of the the CPOX combines with air to fuel the tubular solid oxide fuel cell which is relatively tolerant to the sulfur from reformed diesel. A CPOX reformer built by SOFCO-EFS was chosen to provide fuel to an Acumentrix four stack, tubular solid oxide fuel cell which produces a nominal 5 kWe when operated directly with natural gas. The combination was tested with methane and low sulfur and synthetic diesel . The fuel cell operated better on the reformate than on the natural gas and provided suitable operation at elevations up to 5,000 feet which would often be the altitude of many Alaskan villages.
The test results showed that the SOFC with CPOX reformer could be a suitable technical substitute for diesel generators. There was no mention of the durability of such a system. (Ed. note: The cost factor may still be fomidible as our perceived mention of cost was that it would be in the region of $40,000/kW.)