Release Date: May 29, 2007
|Fuel Cell-Powered Ice Resurfacer Smoothes the Way to the Hydrogen Economy
DOE-Funded Vehicle Proving that Hydrogen Fuel Cells are "Safe, Practical, and Ready"
WASHINGTON, DC - A unique fuel-cell-powered ice resurfacer developed with support from the U.S. Department of Energy has been touring ice rinks throughout the United States and Canada to prove that hydrogen fuel cells are "safe, practical, and ready," and to smooth the way toward a future hydrogen economy by opening up a niche market.
The vehicle, called the eP-ICEBEAR, is the world's first fuel-cell-powered ice resurfacer. Commercial partners ePower Synergies Inc. and Resurfice Corporation teamed on its development with the University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center through its National Center for Hydrogen Technology. The center recently received renewed funding from the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to develop a broad range of technologies required to advance the opportunity for a hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen is envisioned to be the primary energy carrier of the future, driving the energy security of the United States. As Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman recently said, "Hydrogen fuel cells are one of the technologies that - if we are successful - could totally transform the way we use energy... [We] believe hydrogen fuel cell technology remains a viable long-term solution to end petroleum dependency and minimize carbon emissions."
The crowded, enclosed space of an ice arena made the perfect venue for the introduction of hydrogen-powered vehicles. While on exhibition, the eP-ICEBEAR has proved much quieter and safer than the usual propane-powered ice resurfacers, which have sometimes caused dangerous carbon monoxide buildups on the ice while resurfacing. With its fuel cells running on pure hydrogen, the eP-ICEBEAR has no harmful exhaust at all - plain water is the only emission.
Near-zero emissions are typical of all fuel cells since, similar to batteries, they convert chemical energy into electrical energy without combustion. Unlike batteries, however, fuel cells do not gradually lose their power or have to be recharged from other electrical sources; rather, they continually produce their own electricity by being refueled, like a car engine.
Although all fuel cells produce power from hydrogen, different types of fuel cells can be fueled by sources besides pure hydrogen. Coal-derived synthesis gas (syngas), natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, alcohol fuels, and syngas from biomass and industrial wastes may all provide hydrogen for fuel cell operation.
In addition to significantly lower emissions and higher efficiency than internal combustion engines - or power station turbines - which run by combustion, fuel cells have greater flexibility. Fuel cells can run small, portable electrical devices, or they can be "stacked" to produce the amount of power needed for an automobile or a stationary power-generation system. Fuel cells have the potential to provide America with greater energy security, extend our fossil fuel reserves, and reduce our dependence on imported fuels.
Fuel cells themselves are not a new concept; alkaline fuel cells have been supplying electricity and water for space ships since the 1960s. However, fuel cells used in the space program are quite expense, typically costing about 100 times as much as stationary fuel cells today.
Great strides, however, are being made in the development of another kind of fuel cell, the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), which is proving much less expensive to build and operate than earlier fuel cells.
SOFCs are significantly different from other fuel cells; they operate at much higher temperatures, which allows for exhaust gasses to be used for combined heat and power applications and combined-cycle electric power plants, dramatically increasing the efficiency. Running on hydrogen derived from coal-derived syngas, SOFCs are a leading candidate to complete President Bush's initiative for enhanced energy security.
SECA aims to create SOFCs by 2010 that will cost $400 per kilowatt or less, making them price-competitive with more traditional methods of power production. Future efforts will increase efficiency to 60 percent (higher heating value) as part of a coal-fired power plant, with at least 90 percent of carbon captured. The program's industry teams have already met intermediate research goals toward these achievements.
One of SECA's longer-range goals is production of a very high-efficiency SOFC/turbine hybrid that will play a key role in FutureGen, a coal-fired, integrated gasification combined cycle plant planned to be built by 2015. The futuristic plant is being designed as a laboratory facility that will produce electricity and hydrogen while serving as a proving ground for new and state-of-the-art technologies.