Hydrogen + Oxygen = Power
Imagine being able to combine hydrogen rich natural gas with the carbon dioxide (flue gas) exhaust from a power plant to produce heat and electricity while also capturing the CO2.
This is the hope (and hype) of carbonate fuel cell technology being demonstrated through a partnership of Fuel Cell Energy and Exxon Mobil.
While this idea might annoy and anger environmentalists who have been fighting big oil for decades, the technology could emerge as one of the most scalable and economic ways to decarbonize a utility sector still heavily dependent on natural gas and coal powered plants.
CO2 Friendly Fuel Cells
In most traditional applications fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen (oxidant) to produce electricity, heat and water.
Inside this carbonate fuel cell natural gas mixes with carbon dioxide to produce energy.
The science of molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) is not questioned. The uncertainty is in real-world integration of such a system.
In 2018 the Exxon-Mobil and Fuel Cell Energy will continue to test the real-world viability of a utility scale fuel cell that captures CO2 emissions and generates electricity for thousands of homes at a price competitive with traditional power plants.
The pilot will focus on the natural gas units at Southern Company subsidiary Alabama Power’s 2.7-gigawatt James M. Barry power plant.
The project goal is to capture 90% of CO2 emissions and produce electricity at costs just above traditional energy production.
If the pilot is successful in demonstrating real-world operation and value to utilities, Exxon and Fuel Cell Energy could then pursue an aggressive push around the world by providing natural gas (and possibly coal) powered plants a way to reduce their CO2 emissions and produce additional power for their customers.
Learn more: 2017 Slide Deck
Skepticism vs Real World Solutions
Environmentalists might scoff at an effort by Exxon-Mobil which it holds as complicit and guilty of suppressing climate change science and legislation.
Industry insiders might scoff at the viability of fuel cells which promise to double a power plants output AND capture carbon?!
Solar and Wind evangelists might scoff at this solution in favor of their own agenda.
It is unlikely that any deeply entrenched group would publicly embrace Exxon’s efforts – but from an impact standpoint the planet might think otherwise.
If fuel cells can provide an economical way to concentrate and capture CO2, the world would be closer to addressing the need to lower emissions while still providing power to the world.
30 Second Promotional Video – ‘Eating Your Cake and Having it Too’
Look at the Manufacturing Process of a Fuel Cell Stack
A very detailed conversation as part of the CSIS Energy and National Security Program
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