Abu Dhabi-It looks and acts like a methane fuel cell, but its parents were diesel engines.
Ceres Power, spun out of Imperial College London, has devised a stationary fuel cell for homes that could both be cheap to make and highly efficient in its power production. It will try to launch it next year and is working with two utilities in the UK and one in Ireland.
The fuel cell takes methane and converts it into electricity and heat, said Nigel Brandon, a professor at Imperial College and one of the principals at the company, during a presentation and interview at the World Future Energy Summit taking place this week in Abu Dhabi. It's about 80 to 90 percent efficient, which puts it in range with the methane fuel cells already released by Panasonic (a 1 kilowatt device) and ClearEdge Power (5 kilowatts).
The difference is that those fuel cells generate more heat than electricity and electricity is a higher value form of energy, he stated. Ceres produces half electricity and half heat. (Bloom Energy, which is supposed to come out with its methane burning fuel cell soon, produces both heat and electricity, but their ratio is unknown.)
"The ratio is one to one," he said. Some competing low temperature fuel cells generate only 35 percent electrical power, he added.
The Ceres fuel cell, potentially, could cut household utility bills by 25 percent and reduce emissions by 1.5 tons a year.
The higher level of electricity production comes from the fact that Ceres operates at about 550 degrees Celsius. And here is where the economics come in.
"That is about the same operating temperature of a diesel engine," he said. As a result, "we use a lot of automotive components" to lower the design and manufacturing cost.
Many Ceres employees are in fact ex-automotive engineers. It is, however, not an overnight sensation. Brandon and others began researching the concept twenty years ago and the company got formed 10 years ago.