Fuel-Cell Power Plant for Rhön Klinikum Hospital

Posted on May 07, 2001

A HotModule fuel-cell power plant produced by MTU Friedrichshafen started operation at the Rhön Klinikum hospital in Bad Neustadt in Germany's Franconia region in May 2001.

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  • The first high-temperature fuel-cell installation in the world
  • Suitable for a wide variety of applications

Bad Neustadt - A HotModule fuel-cell power plant produced by MTU Friedrichshafen started operation at the Rhön Klinikum hospital in Bad Neustadt in Germany's Franconia region in May 2001. In so doing, it became the first high-temperature fuel-cell installation in the world to be used in a hospital. It supplies the electricity and heat for a section of the hospital, providing 250 kW of electrical energy and 170 kW of thermal energy in the form or high-pressure steam.

The HotModule is particularly well suited to use in medical establishments because the fuel cell operates at a temperature of 650 degrees Celsius and as a by-product produces high-pressure steam which is required in large quantities in hospitals and clinics for purposes such as sterilisation and climate control. There are other advantages of the use of the HotModule at the Rhön Klinikum such as the cost of integrating the installation into the hospital, as Jörg Demmler, the head of Technical Controlling at Rhön Klinikum AG explains: "We only incur very small expenses for peripheral systems because the HotModule is very flexible in adapting to our energy requirements. The costs of sound insulation, exhaust air treatment and maintenance are also lower than for conventional modular power plants". Time is another factor: "The approval procedure required by German anti-pollution legislation that would have been necessary with other types of power plant was not needed with the HotModule".

Hospitals are potentially important areas of application for the new technology. In Germany, they consume about one percent of the electrical energy generated by the country as a whole. Hospitals have to permanently maintain emergency power generators that can ensure there is an uninterrupted supply to the most important electrical systems - in the operating theatre, for example - in the event of a mains power failure. Fuel cells could replace such installations in the future and provide part of the power requirements on a permanent basis. Such an alternative would be very cost-effective for hospitals because the electricity from a mass-produced HotModule is no more expensive than from a major electricity supplier. In addition, fuel cells supply a very smooth, and therefore high-quality, current - an absolute necessity for highly sensitive medical equipment.

Suitable for a wide variety of applications

The installation in Bad Neustadt is also important to MTU Friedrichshafen because it is the second field trials plant in which the HotModule is being used in real operational conditions. Dr Rolf A Hanssen, Chairman of the mtu Management Board, views the project as highly significant: "The HotModule in Bad Neustadt is our second field trials installation. Here we have been able to benefit from experience gained with our first installation at the University of Bielefeld, which has been running very successfully for more than a year. With field trials such as those in Bad Neustadt, we aim to demonstrate that the HotModule is extremely versatile and is suitable for a wide variety of applications such as in food production, brewing and, of course, hospitals".

mtu is hoping to gain more practical experience from the installation in Bad Neustadt that will be important for the construction of a prototype and the subsequent start of volume production that is planned for 2004. One of the most important targets on the road to mass production is to further reduce the manufacturing costs of the HotModule. mtu is aiming to offer series-production HotModules for between 1000 and 1200 euro per kilowatt of output.

Production of the HotModule is a co-operative venture with mtu's partner Fuel Cell Energy Inc. (FCE). FCE supplies the cell packages which are the central components of the plant. Based in Danbury, Connecticut, in the USA, the company has achieved major advances in fuel-cell technology with its direct fuel cells which offer a very high energy yield.