Fuel cell-based micro-cogeneration is technologically ready to contribute to Europe’s energy and climate objectives.

This was the finding of the EU-funded ene.field  project, the technology’s largest field trial to date, which ended its five-year run at the end of 2017.

The project deployed and monitored over 1000 new residential fuel cell micro-combined heat and power (CHP) systems, registering more than 5.5 million hours of operation across 10 European countries. 

According to the project team, from a technical point of view fuel cell micro-CHP is now ready for large-scale market penetration. In the best six-month period of the field trial, the units’ availability to end-users was found to be above 99 per cent. Of the total failures observed, only 1-2 per cent were due to the fuel cell stack itself.

The trial results show that fuel cell micro-cogeneration has significant decarbonization, energy savings and grid stability benefits, the team said. And 90 per cent of surveyed participants were “pleased with the environmental performance, comfort and warmth, and running costs” of their unit. Based on end-users’ perceptions, room for improvement was identified in the areas of running costs and ease of use.

Included in the project was an environmental lifecycle assessment of the technology, which concluded that in general, fuel cell micro-CHPs emit fewer greenhouse gases and air pollutants than gas-fired condensing boilers or heat pumps in all investigated scenarios.

At today’s capital and maintenance costs, fuel cell micro-CHPs are significantly more expensive than traditional heating technologies. But the trial found that with serial production, economies of scale would reduce the costs substantially and the technology can become competitive.

But policy support is also needed. “Increased sales encouraged by, for example, subsidies could therefore improve the near-term economics of micro-CHP units, and may be crucial for the technology to reach the mass market and hence for the EU to harvest the environmental and system benefits,” the researchers said.