Combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cells can operate on hydrogen, natural gas or biogas.
There are two main applications:
Small-scale residential CHP replaces a domestic boiler producing hot water and electricity from gas. More than 100,000 of these have been installed in Japanese homes. They are expensive to buy but the Japanese Government provides a large subsidy to home owners to encourage their installation. They are available in Europe but are unlikely to be widely installed until costs come down.
Large Commercial CHP is used to provide energy to factories, hospitals, leisure centres and data centres. They can be of any size but usually between 100kW and a few MW of electricity and an equal amount of heat. More than 250MW of large fuel cell CHP has been installed in the USA. Systems are available in the UK from a number of suppliers. They are becoming commercially viable in some niche applications.
- More efficient use of gas than conventional CHP gives lower cost of operation and less CO2
- No combustion means no NOx or particulates – ideal for use in urban areas with air quality problems
- Quiet operation allows siting on, near or inside buildings
- Can be used to provide power when there is a gas supply but no, or limited, electrical grid connection