America’s clean energy future is now. Fuel cells are no longer an “if” technology, but a “when”, and that “when” is today.
The technology began to gain traction over a decade ago when fuel cells showed that they fit well in a range of early applications, competing head to head with incumbent technologies. Fuel cells have demonstrated their versatility as a reliable and clean power generation source in a number of sectors, including forklifts, data centers, and telecom towers, as well as growing popularity as an onsite, low-emission power source for retail stores and corporate facilities. Fuel cell power generation is becoming more widespread, with more than a hundred thousand fuel cell systems operating worldwide.
Why are fuel cell sales and leases increasing in end-user markets? The technology is versatile and reliable, capable of producing power for anything that needs it, whether it is a motive, stationary, off-grid, or portable application. Fuel cells are a low-to-zero emission technology, producing energy electrochemically without combustion, and typically exempted from state air permitting requirements. With few moving parts, fuel cells are very quiet, and, compared to some other technologies, the installation footprint is small. These attributes allow the technology to be sited indoors or out, in places such as rooftops, basements, parking garages, building grounds, or near public spaces.
In addition, fuel cells are scalable, ranging from small portables to multi-megawatt (MW) utility-scale units, generating power at around 50 percent electrical efficiency. Some fuel cell systems capture by-product heat which can increase combined electrical and thermal efficiency to 90 percent or greater.
Fuel cells utilize hydrogen, which can be extracted from virtually any hydrogen-containing source, including conventional (fossil fuels) and renewable resources (biogas, biomass, solar and wind). Given these diverse sources of hydrogen, a synergy exists between fuel cells and both the renewable and fossil fuel industries. As the fuel cell and hydrogen industries continue to grow, market expansion opportunities will also expand for these sectors.