Fuel Cells Being Used To Power Japanese Homes

fuel_cell_power_japanese_homes.jpgMasanori Naruse jogs every day, collects miniature cars and feeds birds in his backyard, but he’s proudest of the way his home and 2200 others in Japan get electricity and heat water – with power generated by a hydrogen fuel cell. The technology – which draws energy from the chemical reaction when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water.

Developers say fuel cells for homes produce one-third less of the pollution that causes global warming than conventional electricity generation does. Their plain grey fuel cell is about the size of a suitcase and sits just outside their door next to a tank that turns out to be a water heater. In the process of producing electricity, the fuel cell gives off enough warmth to heat water for the home.


The oxygen that the fuel cell uses comes from the air. The hydrogen is extracted from natural gas by a device called a reformer in the same box as the fuel cell. But a byproduct of that process is poisonous carbon monoxide. So another machine in the grey box adds oxygen to the carbon monoxide to create carbon dioxide, which – though it contributes to global warming – is not poisonous.

The entire process produces less greenhouse gas per watt than traditional generation. And no energy is wasted transporting the electricity where it’s actually going to be used.

Nearly every home in Japanese cities is supplied with natural gas for cooking or heating, which could make it relatively easy to spread fuel cell technology there. The potential for widespread use of fuel cells in bigger or more sparsely settled countries is less certain. Many American homes don’t have gas service, for example.

“There are not any real show-stoppers for this technology being used in the US,” said electrical engineering professor Roger Dougal at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

Dougal said fuel cells are no more hazardous than any stove or water heater. Their major drawback is cost.

“Ultimately, I expect that some fraction of homes will use this technology, but it will be a very long time before a sizable fraction does,” he said in an email.

Naruse is paying $9 500 (about R74 000) for a 10-year lease on a test fuel cell for his home south-west of Tokyo from Matsushita, which sells Panasonic brand products, plans to offer fuel cells commercially in 2009.

Other Japanese companies working on fuel cells for homes include Toyota Motor, which is developing fuel-cell vehicles, and electronics maker Toshiba. Automaker Honda Motor is working with Plug Power, a fuel cell company in the US, to test a home fuel cell generator that also provides hydrogen as fuel for fuel cell vehicles.

Honda hopes domestic use of fuel cell generators will help make fuel cell vehicles become more widespread because owners can refuel at home. It plans to start marketing the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle this year in California; it will lease for about $600 a month.

Fuel cells are expensive in part because they don’t last very long. The latest model from Matsushita, for example, lasts about three years.

But the technology is improving. Matsushita says the savings from using fuel cell-generated power will vary by household and climate, but it promises a cost drop of about $50 a month.

Naruse’s family – with three TV sets, a dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, personal computer and air conditioner – saves about $95 a month. At the same time, conventionally generated electricity remains available to them, should the power generated by their fuel cell run low.

The Japanese government is so bullish on the technology it has earmarked $309-million a year for fuel cell development and plans for 10 million homes – about one-fourth of Japanese households – to be powered by fuel cells by 2020.

Via: IOL Technology

Comments

  1. Jeff R says

    I wish the article was clear on what it is comparing the efficiency of household fuel cells to, when it say they emit one third of the greenhouse gases compared to “conventional electricity generation”. What is conventional? Compared to natural gas generation or to coal? Seems like comparing it to a combination of the latest gas furnace and water heat and gas-generated electricity is the most fair, since that’s the fuel cell’s feedstock, and because that’s what it’s competing with in Japan. But with these fuzzy popular articles you never know…

  2. says

    I think there is a lot of opportunity for this kind of technology in urban areas around the globe. Places like LA, London and NYC; but they are only as part of the solution. So many other products and technologies must support energy shifts like this one. Solar energy, wind energy, and energy systems we have yet to invent. The college I work for, Art Center, has a lot of students who work on creating new products with greener, sustainable design and functionality. It’s a start I guess. We have a long way to go. Art Center is hosting a major event called “Disruptive Thinking,” which will bring together “disruptive” thinkers who challenge the status quo and demand new modes of creativity in areas that influence every aspect of our lives: climate change, geopolitics, business, science, and most importantly design. Hopefully events like this one will speed up the development process and get people inspired. If you’re interested in it, here’s a link to the blog: http://blog.globaldialogues.eu/

  3. nigel breeze says

    i think that these fuel cells may well be a good thing but ultimatly if they depend on gas supplied from utility companies .i think the cost of gas will rocket if the cells prove to loose them revenue from conventional gas use. this i believe is also the case with water generated inventions. most new houses now have water meters, so filling up your car from your own tap would still never be more economical. cars which have been developed to run on water have been around for years but the economical impact on the world have had these inventions buried by governments and other bodies to protect there profits.

  4. Bill says

    For the cost of the fuel cell and ongoing fuel purchases, the homeowner would be better off in the long run by going solar, both thermal hot water and photovoltaic.

  5. Mark says

    What is overlooked here is the lack of a viable alternative to the status quo; in fact this unit produces as much CO2 as anything on the market, excepting the line-loss issue.

    Further, before you waste your money on photovoltaics, know that they a) lose efficiency quickly b) become opaque due to cheap design (plastic versus glass) and c) Wear out (become useless) long before they pay for themselves.

    Too bad the eco-nuts wont embrace Nuclear power- it doesnt create ANY CO2, and if many cars were powered thusly (from home) then we would a) solve the terrorist problem (international oil demand would plummet forever) and b) if there is a MANMADE climate issue, this would abruptly, better than anything excepting 300,000,000 poison pills, curb CO2 emissions.

    Unfortunately, the sound of words (the FEELINGS) are so persuasive today and the truth is not even approached- we get what we deserve for our collective, pugnacious, self-assured, self-loathing, ignorance.

  6. MICHAEL says

    THANKS FOR THE INFORMATION I NEEDED IT REALLY BAD FOR A TOPIC IN SCIENCE AT SCHOOL AND THIS TOPIC MTCHED ONE OF MY QUESTIONS!!!

  7. Momina says

    Using Fuel Cell is a pretty good idea. The cost would be high, but the main thing is that it will save the fossil fuels which are estimated to finish in some time. America should definitely use it and stop invading other Muslim countries for natural gas and petrol etc.
    Anyways, thanks for the information. I needed it for school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>