The momentum for stationary fuel cells continues to grow.
ClearEdge Power, which makes a fuel cell that can convert natural gas into heat and electricity, has raised $26 million, according to SEC filings. It raised $15 million last year and this year added another $11 million. (the extra $11 million was reported by Earth2Tech first, I think).
Like electric cars, methane fuel cells have been discussed for years but now are coming to market. Panasonic, in conjunction with Osaka Gas, started selling a 1 kilowatt methane fuel cell to consumers in Japan earlier this year. In England, Ceres Power says it will start to market its fuel cell through utilities in England and Ireland to consumers next year. Some of the components Ceres integrates into its fuel cells come from the auto industry.
And of course, everyone is waiting for Bloom Energy to release its 25 kilowatt fuel cell. Although rumors swirl that it has been delayed again, Bloom has installed and tested a fuel cell at the University of Tennessee. Early buyers of Bloom fuel cells are San Francisco Airport, Google, Ebay, according to various sources. Adobe may also install a large fuel cell system soon.
ClearEdge makes a 5-kilowatt system that sells for $50,000 that right now it sells in California, mostly in communities where solar doesn't make perfect sense. California consumers qualify for a $12,500 rebate which comes from a pool funded by ratepayers. That drops the price to $37,500. Additionally, businesses qualify for a federal tax credit of $15,000 while homeowners can get a federal tax credit of $5,000. The state also recently passed a provision that allows fuel cell owners to sell their power, thereby allowing them to run them 24/7.
These fuel cells essentially crack methane molecules (one carbon, for hydrogens) to produce electricity and heat. They are generally around 80 to 90 percent efficient if the heat can be exploited. Burning gas at home is 100 percent efficient. Gas, however, can't be converted into electrical power at home easily: generally consumers can only cook with it, heat their home, or heat water. Combined cycle power plants can convert gas to power and then send the power down the wire. These plants can also exploit the waste heat that gets generated in the chemical reaction. Electricity, however, dissipates as it gets delivered. Ideally, fuel cells can help get around these problems. Although the fuel cells perform the same task, their internal architecture and the temperatures at which they operate can vary wildly.
It's not easy. Nigel Brandon, one of the founders of Ceres, said research began in 1991 on the fuel cell that Ceres will market. The company didn't form until 2011. Bloom, formerly Ion America, has been around since the beginning of the decade and has raised $350 million.
And in other funding news, Harvest Energy, which extracts energy and valuable minerals from biomass, has raised money from Waste Management and Kleiner, Perkins.