Fuel cell sets your house in order

A fuel cell group has unveiled a domestic device that it claims can meet the power needs of an entire household.

A fuel cell group has unveiled a domestic device that it claims can meet the power needs of an entire household.

The NetGen fuel cell, which is around the size of a washing machine, has been developed by Australia’s Ceramic Fuel Cells (CFCL).

One NetGen unit can provide around 1kW of power, which should be enough to run all the appliances for the average household, according to CFCL’s head of European business Brendan Bilton.

He said the unit’s main advantage is its high energy efficiency. ‘Every kilowatt of electricity produces 1kW of heat. Compared to most other fuel cells, whose ratio is nearer two to one, we are making a huge gain in efficiency,’ he claimed.

One of the technical challenges the company faced in creating the system was dealing with the waste heat that is produced. A highly efficient heat exchanger had to be developed that could heat the incoming gas inside the fuel cell stack to the optimum temperature for power generation while dealing with the excess heat.

Outlet pipes from the unit remove the waste heat from the stack and dump it into a heat tank, which can then supplement the house’s existing central heating and hot water system.

CFCL's SOFC technology is designed with a highly modular approach. The CFCL stack consists of four main components which form a "layer set":

  1. Solid oxide cell plate with anode and cathode coatings
  2. Solid oxide separator plate with conductive coatings (interconnect)
  3. Glass-ceramic air seal
  4. Glass-ceramic fuel seal

CFCL plans to target the major utility providers directly rather than individual homeowners, and already has a top German power company on-board as a development partner.

Bilton said: ‘It is the power companies that will deploy these systems in people’s houses. They are the ones that will want to get the power on the grid and meet forthcoming EU legislation on cutting emissions.’

The Australian company also hopes to collaborate with boiler manufacturers to integrate the system into new homes, and plans to have its first production facility for NetGen operational by the end of 2008.