First High-Temperature Fuel Cell in a Hospital

Posted on May 07, 2001

Weltweit erstmalig hat im klinischen Bereich eine Hochtemperatur-Brennstoffzelle den Betrieb aufgenommen. Das HotModule, eine von der MTU Friedrichshafen entwickelte Brennstoffzelle, ging am 7. Mai im Rhön-Klinikum Bad Neustadt/Saale ans Netz. Es versorgt dort einen Teil der Klinik mit Strom und Wärme.

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  • The HotModule - MTU Friedrichshafen's fuel cell
  • Clean Technology with Virtually No Harmful Emissions
  • High-efficiency Power Generation
  • Heat By-Product Utilised in Hospital
  • New Avenues for Electricity Generation

Friedrichshafen, Germany / Charleston, SC, USA - mtu Drive Shafts, a DaimlerChrysler company and the world's largest manufacturer of passenger-car drive shafts, is expanding its business in the North American market with the creation of a new U.S. subsidiary and manufacturing operation, "mtu Drive Shafts LLC," based in Charleston, South Carolina.

"The US plant will further increase our competitive edge in the growing NAFTA market," said Dr. Rolf A. Hanssen, President and CEO of mtu and Head of the DaimlerChrysler Off-Highway business unit.

Clean Technology with Virtually No Harmful Emissions

Fuel cells produce almost no harmful emissions and operate far more efficiently than conventional power units. Therefore, they constitute a ground-breaking alternative for electricity generation and propulsion systems. The amounts of harmful emissions that they emit are so small that the term 'exhaust air' is used instead of 'exhaust gas'.

The exhaust air of the HotModule consists almost entirely of hot air and steam. The unit only produces nitrogen and sulphur oxides in virtually undetectable quantities. Even carbon dioxide is emitted at far lower levels than is the case with conventional power stations.

High-efficiency Power Generation

MTU Friedrichshafen, a member of the DaimlerChrysler Group, has spent more than 10 years developing the HotModule. The plant at the Rhön-Klinikum is the company's second field trials installation. The first, at the University of Bielefeld, has not only demonstrated its suitability for day-to-day operation over the past one and a half years, it has also set records. It operates at an electrical efficiency of 47 percent.

That means that 47 percent of the energy fed into the installation in the form of the natural gas fuel comes out at the other end as electricity. In the 250-kW output class, this is a record figure unattained by any traditional plant. Gas-engine plants, for example, operate at an efficiency level of 41 percent. And with the installation at the Rhön-Klinikum, mtu is looking to achieve an efficiency of over 50 percent.

Heat By-Product Utilised in Hospital

For the Rhön-Klinikum the HotModule is attractive not just because of its electricity yield. Apart from electrical power, the plant produces hot air with a temperature of 400 degrees which can be utilised to produce high-pressure steam. In the field of medicine, that steam is important for a number of processes such as climate control and sterilisation. But it can also be used in areas such as the pharmaceutical and food industries for pasteurising and drying or - as part of a combined heating and refrigeration plant - for cooling.

The plant also provides an uninterruptible power supply. Power cuts - which for a private household are generally merely an inconvenience - can be disastrous in a hospital where lives are at stake in the operating theatre. For that reason, hospitals have emergency-power generators in order to be able to bridge temporary mains power failures. The HotModule will be able to replace such installations.

New Avenues for Electricity Generation

In contrast with many other fuel cells, the HotModule can be run on a variety of different fuels - in other words, not just natural gas like the plant at the Rhön-Klinikum - but also methanol, biogas, sewage gas, refuse gas and industrial waste gases. In Dr Hanssen's words, this is one of the fundamental advantages of this technology, "It opens up entirely new avenues to us. At the moment, many of these gases go entirely to waste in industry and agriculture, or at best are used as a source of heat. With the HotModule, it is now possible to use these gases to generate electricity."

One of the reasons why fuel cells have as yet not found broad acceptance is the high price of the technology. This was different with the HotModule, Dr Hanssen explained. The HotModule was already cheaper than other fuel cells even before it went into volume production. For that reason, he was confident that the technology would become firmly established. In around three years, when the field trials phase has been completed, his company expects to be able to offer the HotModule on terms that are not only ecologically attractive but economically viable for the operator.