mtu Fuel Cell Approaching Series Production

Posted on November 20, 2002

The fuel cell technology is approaching market readiness in the decentralized energy generation sector.
  • Ten field test systems installed by end of 2002
  • Record-breaking results in efficiency achieved
  • Great interest in the technology and high market potential
  • Technology presents new perspectives in energy generation

Friedrichshafen - The fuel cell technology is approaching market readiness in the decentralized energy generation sector. The size and weight of the systems do not play such a central role as in the automobile industry. The MTU Friedrichshafen is pioneering the stationary fuel cell concept with their "HotModule".

The HotModule, a high-temperature fuel cell system, is fully on schedule approaching series production. As the company reported, ten field test systems have been installed to date. In the coming year, a further seven systems will be delivered to customers in Europe, Asia and the USA. The start-up of series production for the HotModule is planned for 2006.

Record-breaking results in efficiency achieved

An initial, customer-operated HotModule field test system has been in operation for over two years at the University of Bielefeld. It feeds its electrical energy into the local town network and supplies the university with heat and steam. Valuable experience was gained during this continuous operation, which has contributed towards further optimization of the technology. During its total running time of 16,000 operating hours, the system achieved record figures: It ran longer than any other previous carbonate fuel cell and achieved an electrical efficiency of 47 percent; a value unachieved by any conventional technology in the 250 kilowatt class. In comparison: Modern gas engines of the same size work with a mechanical efficiency of maximum 41 percent, which does not even include the conversion of the mechanical energy into electrical power.

The world's first high-temperature fuel cell in the clinical sector was commissioned at the Rhön clinic in Bad Neustadt/Saale in 2001where it supplies energy and heat for part of the clinic. As well as the electrical energy, the medical section of the Rhön clinic uses the high-pressure water steam produced with the hot waste air for air conditioning and sterilizing purposes.

Besides the HotModule in the Rhön clinic, two further systems were commissioned in 2001. The HotModules were manufactured under license by Fuel Cell Energy Inc. (Danbury, Connecticut), an American cooperative partner of which the mtu is the largest shareholder with seven percent of the shares, and were then delivered in the USA. These were provided for applications in the automotive and energy supply industries. As well as licensed manufacturing, mtu and FCE are also working together in the cell manufacture field. The cells for the HotModules, the central components of the system, originate from FCE.

Great interest in the technology and high market potential

The results of the initial HotModule field test systems have attracted great interest. A total of five systems have been delivered to customers in 2002. "This is a significant further step towards series production of the HotModules", said Michael Bode, Head of New Technologies at MTU Friedrichshafen. The systems were installed at DeTeImmobilien in Munich, IPF in Magdeburg, RWE in Essen, IZAR in Spanish Cartagena and EnBW in Karlsruhe. All five systems are operated in power/heat cogeneration and generate around 250 kW electrical energy along with approx. 170 kW thermal energy. The heat is used for various purposes, such as for tire manufacture, for clinical purposes and for air conditioning of building complexes.

MTU Friedrichshafen, a DaimlerChrysler company, has run the development, testing and series production readiness program of the carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) for over twelve years. For the company, this technology is a strategic enhancement to the current product range. Based on their diesel and gas engines, mtu's core business is the production of drive systems for decentralized energy supply, ships, railway locomotives, heavy vehicles and industrial applications. In some of these sectors, the company is the market leader. "The decision to develop our own fuel cell is a long-term one", said Dr. Rolf A. Hanssen, CEO and President of MTU Friedrichshafen and Head of DaimlerChrysler Off-Highway. "It serves the purpose of extending the good market position, which mtu has in its markets, into the other respective markets where this technology plays a part".

The markets for stationary fuel cells result from the opportunities which are presented by this technology within the existing infrastructure. The fuel is basically natural gas, although other gases can also be used. In comparison to conventional co-generation plants, the HotModule has significantly higher efficiency and is considerably cleaner. It currently achieves an electrical network output of 230 kilowatts at a stack output of 270 kilowatts. This also produces 170 kW of thermal energy. In total, the HotModule therefore achieves an efficiency of over 90 percent. The harmful emissions that the system produces are so slight, that, according to the TA Luft clean air legislation, their waste gases can be considered "exhaust air" rather than "exhaust gas". The exhaust air consists primarily of hot air and water vapor. The system emits nitrous and sulphur oxide in negligible concentrations. The carbon dioxide emission is also significantly lower than with conventional power stations.

Technology presents new perspectives in energy generation

Another technical characteristic of the HotModule with this fuel cell makes possible to embrace completely new markets beyond the existing known markets. Unlike other fuel cells, the HotModule can be run with methanol, biogas, sewage gas, landfill gas and industrial residue gases as well as with natural gas. "This presents us with completely new perspectives," said Dr. Rolf A. Hanssen, Management Chairman of the MTU Friedrichshafen and Head of DaimlerChrysler Off-Highway. Currently, much of this gas in industry and agriculture goes completely to waste or at best is used in thermal applications. The HotModule offers a highly-efficient possibility to utilize these gases for the production of power."