World Fuel Cell
Market Moving Toward Commercialization
Fuel cell technology could penetrate the commercial market in the next three to five years, according to the Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industrial market research firm. The world commercial fuel cell market made up 7% of research and development expenditures and product and service revenues in 2002, but it could represent nearly a quarter of total fuel cell spending by 2007. Freedonia projects a tenfold increase in the fuel cell market to $2.4 billion in the next four years. By 2012, the commercial fuel cell market could account for more than half of the total world fuel cell spending. To help make fuel cell commercialization a reality, the governments of the United States, Japan, and the European Union have recently announced plans to support development of the technology. Fuel cells are already serving as the power sources for portable electronic devices and distributed and grid-based electric power generation applications. According to Freedonia's “World Fuel Cells” report, fuel cell-powered industrial stationary and motive power equipment also could achieve some commercialization during the current decade.
Fuel Cell Technology Could Pave the Way
Toward Cleaner Coal-Fired Power Plants
Ohio University engineers are exploring ways to use coal, the most abundant fossil fuel in the world, to power fuel cells. The Department of Energy awarded a $4 million grant to the Ohio Coal Research Center as part of a national effort to study and develop viable fuel cell power. Because coal is the least environmentally clean of all the fossil fuels, natural gas is more often used to power fuel cells. Natural gas, however, is more expensive and less readily available than coal, which has reserves that could last for the next 250 years. Rather than burning the coal directly, fuel cell technology mixes it with steam, air, and oxygen under high temperatures and pressures. The resulting chemical reaction forms a gaseous mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. When it's introduced to fuel cells, the gas is transformed into water, producing electricity and heat in the process. Researchers plan to spend the next few years determining how to effectively integrate the fuel cells with the coal-derived gas, which currently contains contaminants like sulfur and mercury. By teaming coal-derived gas with fuel cells, the researchers hope to someday produce a clean and reliable source of energy.