It used to be reported that Asian markets have a lot of catching up to do with the West in terms of decentralized energy. But the experience of MTU Onsite Energy suggests otherwise – it is taking engine and fuel cell-based CHP solutions to several Asian countries.

The market for distributed energy systems shows strong growth potential throughout Asia during the next decade as economic development causes the number of possible uses for combined heat and power (CHP) systems to increase each year. Factories, hospitals, commercial buildings and housing complexes are expected to create a growing market for distributed energy in many Asian countries where government support is likely to increase due to the environmental benefits of gas-fired distributed energy systems.

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Gas-fired genset from MTU Onsite Energy

Companies looking to increase sales of CHP systems in Asia include the Tognum Group from Germany, one of the world’s leading suppliers of engines, propulsion systems and distributed energy systems. The Group’s range of products is based on diesel engines with up to 9100 kW power output, gas engines up to 2150 kW and fuel cells up to 345 kW.

To expand sales of distributed energy systems, the Tognum Group established the MTU Onsite Energy brand in 2008. The company has a number of regional offices to develop worldwide sales of CHP and other onsite energy systems.

‘After the promising success in our business at the initial stages we decided to strengthen our on-site energy business as we see big growth rates globally for on-site energy in future. In Asia we see significant growth in the future in megawatts installed,’ commented Hermann Roehm, Director of Sales and Applications Engineering at MTU Asia. Based in Singapore, MTU Asia covers over 30 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Oceania.

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‘HotModule’ molten carbonate fuel cell-based CHP unit from MTU


Distributed energy demand is growing in Asia due to the growing number of large bank buildings, data centres with servers, shopping malls and other big buildings, all of which have large energy requirements, Roehm noted. Large residential developments are another growing market for CHP systems. MTU Onsite Energy has already sold numerous CHP units in South Korea for housing complex developments.

‘CHP is coming to Asia,’ Roehm commented, ‘Previously these countries were just looking for cheap energy. Today, with rising costs for energy, we experience customers turning towards technologies which assure increase in efficiency.’

In Asia, most of the CHP systems that MTU has supplied currently are used in big condominiums in South Korea though other uses are growing through the rest of Asia. Textile factories and hospitals are typical locations. The company has installed more than 80 CHP systems in South Korea since entering this market in 2003.

CHP systems are gaining in popularity as companies increasingly consider installing environmentally friendly equipment to increase their corporate ‘green’ credentials. Being able to boast low emissions makes good publicity for many companies. Also, high fuel costs are encouraging companies to seek more economical forms of energy production and consumption. ‘Fuel prices are increasing so it is better to increase efficiency with steam and power generation. The heat or hot water can be used to heat or dry, or even for air conditioning systems. People are looking to 90% CHP to increase the efficiency of their power system so they do not have to use a boiler. CHP is up to 90% total efficiency. Without CHP the normal generating set in combination with a boiler offers 40% to 43% electrical efficiency,’ said Roehm.

To convince customers of the advantage of installing a CHP system, MTU engineers carry out life cycle cost calculations comparing a CHP system with using a standard generation set and boiler. Although the initial investment in CHP is higher, the investor gets a quick return of investment as CHP operating costs are lower. A significant cost saving can be made over the average 15 to 20 year life cycle of a CHP system.

‘Normally it takes time to convince a customer about CHP as they must believe they can save on costs,’ Roehm said, ‘It depends on the mind set of people. It depends on the company culture and whether they are open for change.’


Another market the company is looking to develop in Asia is the use of biogas in sewage treatment plants where 400 kW or 1000 kW CHP systems can be installed. The CHP heat output would be used to heat the plant or for district heating. Biogas contains methane but also sulphurous gases from bacteria activity and the need for sewage treatment plant CHP engines to be protected and cleaned with gas washers.

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‘HotModule’ molten carbonate fuel cell-based CHP unit from MTU

In Europe and China, landfill waste gas is used, but this varies a lot in quality and content. Biogas quality is better from organic waste, but the quality depends on the organic matter content.

Elsewhere in Asia, interest in distributed energy is growing in a number of countries where natural gas already is well established as an industrial energy source. For example. potential markets for CHP systems
include textile factories, hospitals, steel mills, ceramic factories and distilleries.

Natural gas has played a major role in various South East Asian countries’ energy development programme during the past two decades. Used mainly for power generation and by various industries, indigenous natural gas was regarded as low cost energy until recently. With gas prices rising in South East Asia, the number of companies and other organizations showing interest in installing CHP systems is expected to grow.

Textile mills and hospitals are most likely to change to CHP. For textile plants using steam for heating and drying, an average CHP system would range from 1500 kW to 3000 kW in generating capacity, depending on the factory size and production facilities.

Roehm noted that MTU Onsite Energy is looking at opportunities to supply CHP systems to hospitals in China as well though the availability of gas to run CHP units is not always certain in some parts of China. ‘China is using one of our CHP systems at a wafer fabrication plant. Also, in public buildings,’ Roehm said, ‘CHP offers a big opportunity in China but they will need special generating sets. Landfill waste gas also offers an opportunity there but mostly their generating sets do not use heat.’


In addition to gas gensets, MTU Onsite Energy also supplies ‘HotModules’ – molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) CHP systems. They range from 250 kW to 345 kW in size. HotModules fit well where both heat and power are needed, for example in hospitals where steam is used for sterilization and hot water.

Telecommunications companies are another location where MCFC CHP systems can be used. A large German Telecom company is already one of MTU Onsite Energy’s customers for these systems.

Roehm noted fuel cell efficiencies of 47% electrical and up to 49% thermal make the new HotModule an efficient supplier of electricity and heat. In addition to increasing the power level, the new system is designed for easier maintenance.

The carbonate fuel cells from Ottobrunn, Germany, operate in the temperature range above 600°C and provide useful high temperature heat which can be used for air conditioning or industrial applications. The fuel cells operate at a low noise level and require only infrequent maintenance as the fuel cell does not have any moving parts.

Among other advantages, the HotModule can produce carbon-neutral electricity and heat when fuelled with biogas or sewage gas. The model also is clean in operation in terms of other emissions, with an output of less than 0.01 ppm sulphur dioxide, 2 ppm nitrogen oxide and 9 ppm carbon monoxide being negligible when compared with conventional power plants and CHP systems.

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