Finland pilots waste hydrogen power plant

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VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a pilot-scale power plant based on fuel cells that utilise hydrogen generated as a by-product of the process industry.

The power plant, which has been in operation at Kemira Chemicals’ site in Finland since January 2014, produces electricity from hydrogen generated as a by-product of a sodium chlorate process and is the first of its kind in the Nordic Countries.

According to VTT, when scaled into commercial size, the equipment enables the reduction of energy consumption of the electrolysis process used for sodium chlorate production by 10–20 per cent. 

The electric power of the pilot plant is approximately 50kW, whilst the total electrical efficiency of the system, including the fuel utilisation ratio and the power losses due to auxiliary equipment and power electronics, is approximately 44 per cent. VTT further claims that the fuel cell operates at an electrical efficiency of 54 per cent.

Currently, the low-temperature fuel cell at the Kemira Chemicals site – which annually consumes around 578GWh of electricity – operates at approximately 60°C. In the future, utilisation of the waste heat produced by the system is expected to improve as advances are made in the development of fuel cell materials.

The project has provided information on the reliability of the auxiliary systems and components, and the impact of using industrial-quality hydrogen in PEM fuel cells. The strict quality standards governing the utilisation of hydrogen as traffic fuel today are an important factor in the price formation of hydrogen. In the future, a re-evaluation of these standards may facilitate a major drop in the producer price of hydrogen.

The two-year DuraDemo research project, now nearing its end, has been part of Tekes’ Fuel Cell technology programme. The project has been financed by Kemira Chemicals, Cargotec Finland, Wärtsilä Finland, ABB, Leppäkosken Sähkö, Konecranes, Woikoski, MSc Electronics, and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries.