by Chris Jackson, Chris Dudfield and Jon Moore

Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology is being developed for a wide range of stationary power applications, including remote (off-grid) supply, CHP and distributed generation — up to around 250 kW. Japan and the US lead the way, with European developers having a lot to do to catch up, report Chris Jackson, Chris Dudfield and Jon Moore.

It has become increasingly apparent that in much of Europe there is still discussion over the feasibility of large-scale implementation of stationary fuel cell applications, whereas the US, Japan and Germany have made significant progress towards commercialization. Fuel cells in general have been demonstrated in a wide range of applications from watts to megawatts, each with many tens of thousands of hours operation and seven million hours of combined on-load generation.

They can operate between about 80°C—1000°C depending upon the technology employed. They provide large scope for modularity, meaning that plants can be installed progressively, more rapidly and at lower risk. Their heat to power ratio lends them to CHP applications, such as hot water, space heating, steam generation and the addition of turbine cycles and preheating stages, in addition to their inherently high electrical generating efficiencies. They are low- or zero-polluting at the point of operation, they are also quiet and reliable as the fuel cells themselves have few moving components. Their high efficiencies are higher still at low load, and in the case of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), they can be operated in daily start-stop/on-off mode and respond rapidly to demand changes.


Increasing populations and expanding economies are demanding more heating, cooling and electrical supply, through the growth of air conditioning and consumer electronics. These growing energy needs, combined with the need for improved security of energy supply, decentralization, fuel flexibility and reduced mid- to long-term dependence on imported fossil fuels, are the key drivers behind commercial and governmental interest in the fuel cell market.

Fuel cells are more efficient than internal combustion engine (ICE) based technology. The higher efficiencies translate directly into lower emissions of carbon dioxide per kilowatt of electricity. They are also very efficient at low load, the opposite of combustion technologies, making them very good for the periods of low demand, which are common in building load cycles, and capable of dealing with surges in demand. Noise is also dramatically reduced due to limited moving mechanical parts, allowing systems to be situated very close to the consumer.


Areas of the energy market are frequently defined as shown in Table 1. The table also allows the reader to see the technology spread and competing technologies for each market segment.

The significant contribution of stationary commercial and residential power usage towards greenhouse gas emissions is well documented. Energy losses through transmission lines vary in Europe between 3.7% in Finland and 9.9% and Ireland. Distributed generation technologies reduce this effect by reducing the current flow in the lines. Decentralized DG can therefore guard against grid failures, act as a buffer during failures and allow load levelling. Additionally, the gradual installation of modular renewable or fuel cell systems allows scale-up in capacity as required, unlike today’s large scale power plants.

Appropriate organisation of distributed systems can therefore contribute towards peak shaving, which aids in meeting peak demands but also aids in compensating for seasonal variation in solar and wind power generation technologies.

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At present 80% of CHP applications are based in the industrial sector. Fuel cells are an enabling or bridging technology which can allow the environmental and efficiency benefits of CHP to migrate into the residential market. The rate of refurbishment and replacement of the existing building stock, combined with the new ultra-efficient housing/building laws such as those described in the European directive (2002/91/EC), both contribute to a growing market for residential micro-CHP. In this respect fuel cell technologies represent a market opportunity for the clean generation of electricity and provision of hot water and heating.


Low temperature units such as PEMFCs employ hydrogen as their fuel. There is much discussion of the hydrogen economy and the benefits it will bring — namely a cleaner environment and greater energy security by diversifying the sources of energy for our heating and power requirements. The eventual aim is to provide hydrogen from truly sustainable means, such as wind, wave and solar via electrolysis, allowing us to harness power that presently escapes us as there is no means or medium by which to capture it.

In the near future however, hydrogen production and the adoption of fuel cell technology is being realized by the reformation of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and hydrogen derived from ethanol and landfill and biogases. Fuel cells are therefore employing transitional fuels, in that they are employing hydrogen produced from fossil fuel resources in the near term and clean hydrogen in the future.


The threshold for early niche market acceptance of PEMFC in stationary applications is an installed cost of around US$1500/kW, with larger markets in the range of $400—$800/kW, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). At present, the technologies are not mass manufactured and are approaching $3000/kW in the 1 kW range, and scale economies could reduce costs dramatically, possibly below $100/kW.

This is particularly possible in the case of PEMFCs, because their application in fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and the more stringent associated automotive cost targets will likewise result in lower costs for stationary applications. Additionally, the numbers of systems manufactured and the competition between the PEMFCs producers in Japan, the associated cost-cutting combined with their government incentives regarding household units, will surely aid in widespread acceptance and commercialization.

In fact Toshiba has commented that the cost of their systems has fallen since 2004, by half, to a third and then a fifth in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively, as a result of the New Energy Foundations (NEF) program. Similarly, the Vaillant systems employed in the European demonstration have achieved a 41% cost reduction, as a result of the virtual power plant project. The remaining costs are expected to decrease to suitable levels by 2015, by which time strong market growth is expected with acceptance of residential units.

System life is expected to be in the order of 20 years; however, costing should also take into account the replacement of the fuel cell component after its service lifetime, which has been specified by commercial targets as five years on-load operation. While this does imply the end of the fuel cell’s operational life, the catalyst employed is already reclaimed and recycled to be used again by existing and routinely employed technology. Given these projections, the price of electricity could be as little as $0.08/kWh with utility maintenance costs of between $0.03—$0.1/kWh per year.


Recent figures released by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) in the US suggest that the global fuel cell based industry, could be in excess of $20 billion per year by 2020, if correct strategic investment is made in the near term, with generating capacity growing to 15 GW by 2011. The recent review by Fuel Cell Today approximated the combined manufacturing capacity of the independent and corporate fuel cell developers and manufacturers as in the order of 100,000 units per annum. Eighty percent of the units currently produced serve the stationary market.

In fiscal year 2007 global funding for fuel cell industry was in the order of $1.2 billion, this was made up in part by $360, $330, $156, $140 and $26 million for the US, EU, Japan, Germany and the UK respectively. This clearly indicates that far more activity in the areas of market incentives and development is required in the UK in order to compete in an area in which it is home to several indigenous fuel cell technologies and perceived as one of the technical leaders in the field.


Japan stands apart from the rest of the world in leading the installation of fuel cell technology. The Japanese market has traditionally been very aggressive in strategy towards commercializing PAFC for stationary applications (and some MCFC) and PEMFC for vehicular applications, with the government playing a very active role. Indeed, the former prime minister Mr Koizumi’s residence in Tokyo is powered by a PEMFC cogeneration unit.

Japan’s Ministerial Liaison Council for Fuel Cell Implementation completed a review of six laws and 28 articles relating to Fuel Cells in 2005. These promote fuel cell deployment, through emissions targets (Energy Conservation Law), use of new energy (RPS Law), procurement of eco-friendly goods and services (Green Purchasing Law) and the Food Recycling Law. Ministries involved include Economy, Trade & Industry (METI), Environment (ME), Land, Infrastructure & Transport (MLIT) and the Agency for Natural Resources & Energy — discussing issues such as use in confined areas, pressurized hydrogen tank certification, fire service guidelines and building standards.

Initially, there were few companies in Japan actually producing fuel cells, with components being procured in the US for use in value added systems. Ebara Ballard, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, for instance all import their technology. However, indigenous systems are now under development. The market leaders in Japan are Ebara Ballard (EB), Matsushita Electric Industrial (MEI), Sanyo Electric (SE) and Toshiba Fuel Cell Power Systems (TFCPS), all of whom have a PEMFC platform in the 1 kW range and account for 96% of the market. A market which is expected to grow from 1000 in 2007 to 60,000 installed units by 2010.

The structure of the market was established by governmental funding cooperative ventures, and as a result, fuel cell integrators, energy providers, gas and oil companies work closely, feeding all generated field data back to the NEF for dissemination and critical analysis, driving competition, system advances and cost reduction, while allowing the end users to develop experience in operation and maintenance.

It is common for the heavy industrial system integrators to incorporate their reformers developed for fuel cells into other products that they produce within their operations. MEI, for example, installs their reformers and fuel cell systems in their group’s home building operation, Panahome. It is also very common for many of the Japanese Oil and Gas companies (15 of them), who produce their own reformer technologies for three different fuels (Kerosene, LPG and Natural Gas) to partner with the fuel cell integrators (five mentioned above) and provide fuel. Two such companies involved with EB in this way are Tokyo Gas and Nippon Oil. Other oil and gas suppliers involved in the fuel cell and reformer market are Cosmo Oil, Idemitsu Kosan, Osaka Gas and Toho Gas. Idemitsu Kosan have, for example, provided both the kerosene and corresponding reformer technology, combined it with a 5 kW PEMFC from Ishikawajima-Harima and employed it to power a dormitory and provide hot water for 60 employees.

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Similarly other companies have developed 10 kW systems which power convenience stores, targeting business facilities, retailers, restaurants and other commercial buildings. Recent system installations are summarized above in Table 2.

Japan has also pioneered in the development of the supply chain through standardization of balance of plant (BOP). METI shares all BOP specification information with vendors and has developed a three-year programme to develop suitable components for auxiliary systems. Finally, Japan’s Small Business Innovation Research Program for renewable energy (SBIR) has US$38 million available for grants to encourage small businesses to explore their IP in the fuel cell and other fields to maintain momentum and potentially remove dependence upon US and European fuel cell developers.


North America has been at the forefront of fuel cell development through Ballard Power Systems in Canada and UTC and others such as FCE, Plug Power and Idatech in the US. The leading demonstrations of PEMFC technology for residential distributed generation applications have been by GE Fuel Cell Systems (a joint venture between GE Distributed Power and Plug Power), with H-Power and Ballard also demonstrating at installation level.

Military funding is significant with 50 installations with 136 fuel cell systems in the state of New York alone, and a number of utilities, such as Unicom and Southern California Edison, are investing in fuel cells as alternative energy technologies to meet future needs. States are however operating largely independently, with forty-seven states presently active in the development of a hydrogen and/or fuel cell economy. The various strategies include: grants (nine states), tax incentives (20), support of research and development and emerging businesses (27), strategies and roadmaps (25), standards for connection to the grid (22), refuelling stations for vehicles (11). The organisation and development of the market is not however as developed or organized as the Japanese model.


The European companies have been much slower in developing and patenting IP. Germany and the UK have the most capability at present, although Germany has much better developed supply and value chains, with both large and small companies such as PEMEAS, MTU, Siemens Westinghouse and critically, a number of energy supply companies that are committed to evaluating fuel cells in the field. Hence, 75% of all European installations are in Germany. Inter-EU companies such as RWE, E.On and Baxi may however encourage the market in the UK for stationary applications.

The most noteworthy activity to date in Europe in terms of application of fuel cell technology was the ‘Virtual’ Community power plant — which ran from 23 January 2004 until 11 May 2005 — with 11 European partners, including Vaillant, Plug Power, Cogen Europe, E.ON Ruhrgas AG and E.ON Energie AG. The project cost €8.3 million with an EU contribution of 36% (ie €3 million). Thirty-one decentralized stand-alone residential fuel cell systems were installed in Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands. The systems were fed with natural gas which was converted to a hydrogen-rich reformate stream. The fuel cell, fed with air and reformate, produced electricity and hot water. The heat was fed to the heating loop of the house while the DC electricity was fed to the inverter, which provided power at 230 V, 50 Hz AC power to the house and the grid.

Successes for the project included: no system failures during the programme, fuel efficiencies of up to 90%, and electrical efficiencies of greater than 30%. The trial achieved 138,000 hours of on-load operation and produced circa 400,000 kWh of electricity. Fuel cell demonstrations presently active in the UK that are capable of CHP applications are outlined in Table 3.

The UK government has been active in raising awareness of fuel cells through the Carbon Trust, the London Climate Action Plan, Green Light to Green Power Initiative, Transport for London (TfL), the Brighton to London Eco Car Rally and the London Hydrogen Partnership (LHP) Hydrogen Action Plan. The UK also has two centres of excellence dealing with demonstration of the technology by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) at Teesside and development of the UK industry at Cenex (Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell Technologies) in Loughborough in the Midlands. The 2012 Olympics will also be used to showcase the technology.

However, recent consultancy studies have identified severely limited funding, expensive components, a fragmented supply chain and a lack of significant national organization, as limiting processes in the development of the UK Fuel Cell Industry.


The combined learning from the Japanese, and to a lesser extent the US, are summarized in the published literature by NEF as an ethos for their market and technology roadmaps. They are separated into phases: the deregulation by 2000; introduction by 2005; popularization by 2010; and dynamic popularization (diffusion) phases by 2020. These include, parallel studies for technical development and research, infrastructure development, and governmental removal of barriers for various fuels and building regulations and the generation of codes and certification. Technical system developments discussed include:

  • development of fuel flexible and cold start units
  • identification or development of suitable reformer technology
  • building of a non-conformance database and onboard monitoring
  • demonstration of up to 5000 systems
  • improved QA/QC
  • design for lower thermal loss
  • higher fuel utilization
  • optimum BOP, hybridization and CHP design
  • simplification of onboard control systems
  • establishing remote diagnostic support systems via the web
  • redesign/modification for installation and maintenance
  • redesign/modification for mass production and cost reduction.
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Specific technical targets set for the technology for 2010 are shown in Table 4.

Technical issues that are of significance from a fuel cell perspective, rather than a system perspective, involve the purity of the hydrogen stream, its humidity, and its start-up and shut-down control. These factors can have a large impact upon catalyst and membrane durability, poisoning and performance limitation.

Recent research funded by the EU is also investigating the use of high temperature PEMFCs operating with membranes that do not require hydration and can therefore operate above 100°C. It is suggested that in the future these systems may be capable of combining the advantages of low temperature PEMFC with increased capacity for waste heat, cheaper catalyst materials and less pure hydrogen fuel. This area is however purely research focused at present.

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Power generation worldwide is at present based up on a centralized grid structure. This results in poor efficiency due to transmission losses and high emissions amongst other commercial disadvantages in terms of risk, construction times and long term financial commitment. Distributed generation is one solution to these problems that is receiving increasing attention, with fuel cells as one of the main contenders for market share, from watts to megawatts.

European and US fuel cell developers have provided viable technologies, and the Japanese market has demonstrated the potential of extensive partnering, through schemes for development both upstream with fuel cell and system developers and downstream with energy providers, to prepare for market entry. The nature of the demonstrations and the stakeholders involved has driven progress in all areas including performance, durability, materials and costs, standards and certification for installation, infrastructure and regulation, planning and insurance. It has also resulted in a common roadmap with staged market development and national diffusion strategies.

However, it is generally believed that the UK in particular has suffered from a lack of organized support for the demonstration phase, and Europe must intensify its efforts if it is to compete as a world leader in this emerging market. Intelligent Energy has found however, that fuel cell developers can learn from the successes described herein and be proactive in demonstrating capabilities and partnering with energy providers with existing and well-established customer relationships and support services, in order to introduce fuel cell technology as a residential cogeneration solution to the masses.

Chris Jackson, Chris Dudfield and Jon Moore work with Intelligent Energy Ltd, Loughborough, UK.


Intelligent Energy is a fuel cell power systems company with a range of leading fuel cell, fuel processing and hydrogen generation technologies. The company is focused on the provision of cleaner power and low carbon technologies. Intelligent Energy has noted the successful strategies employed elsewhere and partners leading global companies in the transportation, oil and gas, aerospace, defence, distributed generation and portable power markets. Current partners and customers include Scottish and Southern Energy, Boeing, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and The Suzuki Motor Corporation.

Intelligent Energy’s 7 Series 10 kWe APU unit using evaporatively-cooled PEMFC technology (top) and air-cooled 2 kWe lightweight technology (bottom)
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Work in the area of stationary power generation and CHP applications at Intelligent Energy has been ongoing since 2002. Intelligent Energy has worked with Sasol (South Africa) to develop and demonstrate a scalable integrated reformer/fuel cell solution that is fuel flexible. The fully operational system was completed in 2005 and demonstrated in Long Beach, California, connected to and supplying the Southern California power grid. Additionally IE’s portfolio of reformer technologies not only allow the use of ammonia and the commonly employed fuels discussed earlier (such as propane, kerosene and LNG), but they also allow fuel switching. Studies showed that the achievements were scalable to far in excess of 25 kW, allowing for a variety of stationary applications. Demonstrations of this and similar systems include:

  • West Beacon Farm (UK), 2 kWe household CHP
  • Qinetiq (UK), 2 kWe APU system
  • Matsushita (Japan), 1.3 kW domestic CHP
  • Centre for Process Innovation (UK), 100 W systems for road safety, signs and sensors
  • Bedford Gardens Hospital (South Africa), and DG units for the refrigerated storage of vaccines for remote rural areas.

Learning from the above demonstrations and clear lessons from the Japanese commercialisation model, has demonstrated the benefits of cooperation and partnering in order to bring fuel cell technology for stationary applications to the public customer base through energy providers.

Recently, therefore, Intelligent Energy has agreed terms with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) for the formation of a joint venture company. The new company, IE CHP (UK and Eire) Ltd, will develop and produce fuel cell CHP systems for the residential and commercial markets of the UK and Ireland. The partnership will combine Intelligent Energy’s fuel cell and hydrogen generation technologies with SSE’s considerable customer base (8.5 million customers) and servicing business — paving the way for significant in-roads towards more efficient energy provision and lower environmental impact for the residential and commercial sectors in the UK and Ireland, in accordance with UK and EU directives.