7 Jan 2002 – DCH Technology, Inc. a Californian-based manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen-specific sensors and provider of hydrogen safety services, announced Monday it has shipped a natural gas-fuelled 5 kW fuel cell system to “a major European electric utility”.

The utility, which has asked to remain anonymous but is “one of the world’s leading energy suppliers”, will use the DCH Enable(TM) proton exchange membrane (PEM) system to validate DCH fuel cells for use as power quality systems and, when tied to the grid, as an option for a clean distributed power generation resource. The system will be installed next month.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) worked with the European utility, a member of EPRI, and DCH to develop the equipment specification and to select key sub-systems such as the ultra-capacitor for load buffering. EPRI performance-tested the unit prior to shipping and provided overall project management to help accelerate product development.

Prior laboratory testing of a DCH 3 kW hydrogen fuel cell system at EPRI PEAC, EPRI’s power quality testing laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, showed exceptional response times to varying load conditions – on the order of 250 microseconds — which is the most critical parameter for a power quality system.

The 5kW DCH system with natural gas reformer can be used as a power source for an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) or an adjustable-speed drive. It is approximately 50% more efficient in fuel-to-electricity conversion than an internal combustion engine generator. The system is available with a variety of output voltage options that allow it to operate in parallel with the grid or separate from the grid.

“Traditionally, power quality disturbances have been solved through the use of UPS systems based on battery banks with engine generator backup. To assure reliability of these systems, regular maintenance of the battery and engine generator systems is essential,” said Bill Winnerling, EPRI Power Quality Technical Area Manager.

Industry experts report that more than $600bn will be invested worldwide over the next 20 years into the ageing electric utility infrastructure. A sizeable portion of this investment will fund new alternative energy generating scenarios that include fuel cell systems.