The Siemens Power Generation Group (PG) is to build for the very first time a close-to-series fuel-cell power plant in Europe.

Under contract to Stadtwerke Hannover AG and E.ON Energie AG a standardized SOFC (solid oxide fuel cell) plant with a maximum electrical capacity of 250kW is to be built in Hanover on the site of the Herrenhausen power plant by 2003.

The high-temperature fuel-cell power plant, which PG will be supplying on a turnkey basis, will in normal operating mode feed 225 kW of electrical energy into the grid operated by Stadtwerke Hanover.

Simultaneously some 160 kW of heat will be generated for Hanover's district heating network.

"This plant will constitute a milestone for broad-based market introduction of our SOFC power plants," said Klaus Voges, PG President, at the contract signing ceremony in Hanover.

"As a result of the separation of generation, transmission and distribution in the liberal-ized power markets, distributed power generation systems are gaining in importance", said the PG President. Because fuel cells are characterized by high electrical efficiency even at low cell ratings, the plants are assuming a special role, also for reasons of envi-ronmental protection.

In its efforts to push ahead with development in the field of fuel cell technology, Siemens had following the acquisition of Westinghouse's fossil power plant business in 1998 bundled the existing know-how within the two companies with the aim of having commercial products in the marketplace by 2003. For that purpose the Siemens Westinghouse research and development center located in Pittsburgh, Penn., was transformed into a Siemens Power Generation business sector with worldwide responsibility.

In September of last year, work commenced on construction of a fuel cell production facility in Pittsburgh, which is scheduled to start operations before the end of this year and to commence production in the fall of 2003. Capacity is to be expanded in three phases up to the production of more than 100 megawatts per year and manpower up-sized from 150 to between 450 and 500 by 2006. The first standard product that Siemens PG intends to market will be the "CHP 250" system (combined heat and power, that is cogeneration, with a capacity of 250 kW); at a later date the range of products will be extended to include fuel cell systems with downstream microturbine with an overall capacity of more than 500 kW.

An SOFC operates similar to a battery: It generates electricity electrochemically using the chemical energy contained in the fuel – efficiently and with practically zero emissions. By contrast with other types of fuel cell, high-temperature SOFCs can use natural gas directly because at almost 1,000 deg Celsius an internal conversion process enables use of the hydrogen contained in the natural gas. The waste products are pri-marily water and a small amount of carbon dioxide. There are no other emissions such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide or soot. To date, Siemens has nine demonstration plants worldwide in operation or ordered. North America and Europe are regarded as the most promising markets for SOFCs in stationary power plant applications.