Europe Gets First MW-Scale Industrial Fuel Cell Power Plant

Europe’s first megawatt-size fuel cell went online in September. The 1.4-MW power plant put online by E.ON and FuelCell Energy Solutions in Mannheim, Germany, will provide power over the next 10 years, at least, for production processes of materials specialist FRIATEC.

The plant was installed in only nine months as a joint project by E.ON Connecting Energies, E.ON’s subsidiary for commercial and industrial energy solutions, and FuelCell Energy Solutions, a joint venture by Fraunhofer IKTS and FuelCell Energy Inc.

It uses a 1.4-MW fuel cell with an electrical efficiency of 47% that was designed by Dresden-based FuelCell Energy Solutions. The company said that the natural gas–powered fuel cell will supply FRIATEC (Figure 2) with around 11.2 GWh of electricity and 6,000 MWh of thermal energy. “It will cover about 60% of the total energy requirements for [FRIATEC’s] production processes,” FuelCell Energy Solutions said. Process heat from the fuel cell—of up to 400C—can be used as steam, hot water, or cold water via a heat exchanger in the industrial production processes. That’s why the company suggests the system may achieve a high overall efficiency of more than 90%.

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2. Big and bold. E.ON and Fuel Cell Energy Solutions in September started operating a 1.4-MW fuel cell installed at materials specialist FRIATEC’s facility in Mannheim, Germany. Courtesy: Fuel Cell Energy Solutions

The DFC1500 EU fuel cell uses molten-carbonate technology. “The carbonate fuel cell derives its name from its electrolyte, which consists of potassium and lithium carbonates,” the company explained. “To produce electricity, carbonate fuel cells generate hydrogen directly from a fuel source, such as natural gas or renewable biogas, in a process referred to as internal reforming. This internal reforming process, which has been patented by FuelCell Energy, is a distinct competitive advantage of carbonate fuel cells because it allows readily available fuels to be used.”

According to E.ON, the plant is the only one of its kind in Europe to date. “In terms of technology and environmental protection, fuel cells represent a promising alternative to conventional combined heat and power plants. In comparison with other decentralized technologies such as gas turbines, they use fuel sources far more efficiently,” the company added.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)