Danbury-based FuelCell Energy (FCE) hosted a celebratory summit at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) on Thursday, September 6th to announce its successful demonstration of a novel distributed generation hydrogen production technology called Electrochemical Hydrogen Separator (EHS). The successful demonstration offers promise that hydrogen-powered automobiles may become a reality. The summit featured remarks by various energy leaders, a round-table discussion, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and demonstration of the EHS unit.
The technology was developed to address a barrier to widespread use of fuel cells in transportation, the lack of a hydrogen infrastructure necessary to support hydrogen generation, storage and transport. FuelCell Energy installed a scale EHS unit, which separates the excess hydrogen generated by high-temperature fuel cells, at the C2E2 to test the unit’s sustainable performance. According to FCE representatives, the unit operated for more than 6,000 hours with no degradation in performance.
The celebratory event capped a successful industry/university/government collaboration between FuelCell Energy, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, the U.S. Department of Defense and the UConn School of Engineering aimed at refining and testing the novel EHS technology and propelling it toward commercialization. The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund provided seed funding to the project, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research & Development Center subsequently provided another $2.6 million in DOD funding that allowed FCE to continue development of the technology, which consumes little energy, involves no moving parts, and is less costly than existing mechanical technologies. A recurring theme during the summit was the challenge to make often-costly renewable energy technology more economical, and to move it from the lab to commercial markets.
Among the speakers sharing remarks during the September 6th event were Lise Dondy, President of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund; Dr. Pinakin Patel, Director of Special Systems and Research at FuelCell Energy; Franklin Holcomb, Fuel Cell Projects Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, IL; Trent Molter, Research Scientist and Business Development Officer at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering; UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Peter Nicholls; and Interim Dean of Engineering, Dr. Erling Smith. FuelCell Energy’s Dr. Patel; Keith Frame, Associate Director – New Technologies and Project Management with the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund; Dan Tyndall of Air Products & Chemicals; Joel Rinebold of CCAT; and Franklin Holcomb of DoD-CERL – and other sustainable energy leaders and policy makers participated in an afternoon round-table brainstorming session intended to foster continued industry/academic/government collaborations on energy development. The event was attended by UConn leaders, representatives from many of Connecticut’s fuel cell companies, green energy entrepreneurs, and an aide to one of Connecticut’s representatives in Washington.
During its operation at C2E2, the EHS unit produced enough hydrogen to fuel three fuel cell vehicles per day. The demonstration also showed that dramatic cost savings of between 30-60 percent are possible compared with commercially available hydrogen separation systems. FuelCell Energy believes the technology could make the cost of hydrogen competitive with that of gasoline.
The alliance exemplifies the positive synergies that can emerge between commercial partners and the university’s unique R&D centers, which are equipped with exceptional resources.