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Fuel Cells Providing Power Despite Winter’s Chill

March 13, 2014 - 3:19pm

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The Energy Department recently released a new video in its popular Energy 101 series showing how fuel cell technology generates clean electricity from hydrogen to power our buildings and transportation—while emitting nothing but water. This video illustrates the fundamentals of fuel cell technology and its potential to supply our homes, offices, industries, and vehicles with sustainable, reliable energy.

Spring is just around the corner but winter is still nipping at our heels.  Fuel cell technologies can help fight the cold and make sure you are toasty warm whether you are driving your fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) or using a fuel cell powered generator.  Fuel cells work like batteries, but do not run down or need recharging. They produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.  Fuel cells produce electrical power without any combustion or carbon emissions and operate on fuels like hydrogen, natural gas, and propane.   Because of reduced emissions compared to conventional generators, it’s easier to operate them in enclosed spaces to keep you warm.

We asked some of our Energy Department-supported fuel cell providers how their technologies are dealing with the cold: 

  • Acumentrics, of Westwood, Massachusetts, combined their fuel cells with photovoltaic panels to power U.S. Coast Guard radio network towers in Juneau, Alaska.  According to their research, potential annual fuel savings could equal more than 700 gallons per year.  If fuel cells replace propane generators, operators could potentially save as much as $18,000 per year on energy costs. 
     
  • Multiquip Inc., located in Carson, California, supplies fuel cell powered mobile lighting to multiple markets, including the construction industry.  Many of their lights are being used in Connecticut to illuminate highway construction projects that must continue despite winter storms.
     
  • Nuvera Fuel Cells, of Billerica, Massachusetts, supplied Dolomitech Srl, a transportation supplier in Italy, with four fuel cell stacks to equip two minibuses that are in service in Val di Fiemme.  The minibuses were initially used for the 2013 Nordic Skiing championship and have since been used in the snowy conditions of the Alps. The vehicles have traveled more than 18,000 miles without any cold weather issues.
     
  • Proton OnSite, of Wallingford, Connecticut has 10 Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle-advanced (FCHV-adv) vehicles and operates a hydrogen station for the vehicles and a bus from a nearby community.  Even with temperatures as low as 3° F, the cars start up with no issues and the fueling stations are running without any problems.  The vehicles can be fueled in just a few minutes and can get a range of up to 300 miles, even with the heater operating on its highest setting.
     
  • While record low temperatures have stranded many East Coast drivers, Toyota’s fuel cell hybrid vehicles show no signs of degradation.  Over the last decade, the Toyota fuel cell fleet has logged millions of miles in some of the most extreme climates on the planet. In Yellowknife, Canada, where temperatures reach -30° C , fuel cell engineers spent weeks verifying cold weather start up, performance and durability. In Death Valley, they verified that their fuel cells can also beat the heat.  And some fuel cells have even been tested in the remote mountains of Afghanistan while providing portable power for the military.
     
  • Fuel cells have even been used in Alaska over the years with a 1 megawatt demonstration at the Anchorage post office through ClearEdge Power (formerly UTC Power) and a 25 kilowatt fuel cell from Bloom Energy at the Anchorage airport. 

Learn more about how the Energy Department, in partnership with national laboratories and industry, is making it cheaper and easier to produce, deliver, and store hydrogen, while also working to lower the costs of fuel cells and improve their durability and performance. Also, watch our latest Energy 101 video above to find out how hydrogen and fuel cell technologies work.  

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