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Doosan Babcock voices

Ian Chisholm

Ian Chisholm

Director of
Green Power Solutions
for Doosan Babcock

Fuelling greener community power

Clean, compact and with a gentle hum, fuel cells have the potential to lead a quiet revolution in urban-friendly energy production. The technology's unassuming modular design won't turn heads, and with no moving parts, you're unlikely to hear them. But fuel cells are something to make a noise about. Their ability to deliver clean, sustainable and reliable energy direct to communities has huge potential. The technology is proven, supports the push for a more decentralised energy network and ticks all the environmental boxes. In fact, you could say it's the ultimate in 'green' boxes. Here's how and why.

Doosan Fuel cells

Transformative technology

Fuel cells transform chemical energy from fuel into power and heat through a co-generation process, producing energy output more efficiently than the separate production of electricity and heat.

In contrast to conventional combined heat and power (CHP) applications, fuel cells emit virtually no emissions from pollutants such as NOx, SOx and particulates. Therefore, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions from heat and power generation, they can improve air quality, which is particularly important in dense urban areas where air pollution has been identified as a key health issue.

And there are other benefits too: unlike wind turbines, which can be unsuitable for built-up, urban environments, fuel cells are modular and compact, meaning they can be easily installed in a basement or on a roof. They also have no moving parts and so produce low noise and vibration.

The technology also promises a flexible and sustainable future in the way it's powered. Units can currently operate on natural gas, biogas or a blend of fuels. In the future, when fuelled by pure hydrogen derived from water electrolysis using electricity from renewables, fuel cells will be a fully renewable, carbon-neutral solution.

Doosan Fuel cells

Leading by example

At Doosan Babcock, we are leading the fuel cells charge in the UK and European markets with the Doosan PureCell® Model 460 — manufactured by our US partners, Doosan Fuel Cell America. The technology generates 460kW of electricity and 513kW of heat with only a minimal carbon footprint. It also delivers 90 per cent efficiency, versus coal-fired power generation which is just 35 to 45 per cent efficient, and combined cycle gas which is 50 to 55 per cent efficient.

And we're not only bringing the benefits of fuel cells to our customers but also utilising the technology ourselves. A PureCell® unit is currently being installed at our head office manufacturing base in Renfrew, Scotland. Our projections show that the fuel cell won’t just help realise a large reduction in our energy bills — it will also significantly reduce our carbon footprint, which is a core objective for us.

Our goal is to have the unit up and running this year to mark Doosan Babcock’s 125th anniversary, and then we look forward to reaping the benefits of that clean, reliable energy supply for the next 20 years – the typical product life cycle of our fuel cell.

Looking to the UK, Europe and beyond

The evolving energy market across Europe offers great opportunities for fuel cells to thrive, driven by increasing environmental legislation, such as the Climate Change Act and the Medium Combustion Plant Directive.

In the UK, we still have some way to go to fully embrace the technology. The market is in its infancy and really requires scale roll-out to become competitive. We also need to see major investment in the UK’s hydrogen infrastructure to enable us, as a nation, to fully exploit the benefits of fuel cells as a completely carbon-free energy solution.

Doosan Fuel cells
Doosan Fuel cells

If this happens, and as economies of scale develop, there is the potential for unit costs to be halved by 2020, which would make fuel cell economics competitive with conventional gas CHP. To achieve this level of commercialisation, policy support will be crucial. Options to nurture the fuel cells market could include:

  • Enhanced tax benefits for fuel cells to reflect reduced emissions;
  • Early implementation of the Medium Combustion Directive in the UK, focusing on urban areas with local pollution challenges;
  • An extension to the renewable heat incentive (RHI) which is currently provided for low-carbon renewable fuels such as biomass, so that it includes technologies such as Fuel Cells

And with greater investment in UK fuel cell technology, there could be potential to establish a new industry and create more skilled manufacturing, engineering and construction jobs in the UK. Environment, economy and community in harmony.

Kick starting the future

We can trace the birth of the technology back to the 1840s when Welsh judge and physicist William Robert Grove demonstrated the first fuel cell, by generating electricity through the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. More than 175 years later, fuel cell technology is opening the doors to a more sustainable energy future, providing a reliable, green and urban-friendly energy solution.

We just need to give it the kick start it needs to get off the ground in the UK and Europe. Another chain reaction in the making.

This blog was written by Ian Chisholm for Doosan Babcock voices.

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