Stirling engine micro combined heat and power boilers (mCHP) have been around for over 24 months now, but the manufacturers have not enjoyed the sales numbers that were initially forecast. This was due in the large part to the high initial purchase cost and the hotly debated time scales associated with the initial investment payback period – when applied to real-world installations.
New mCHP technologies, mainly Fuel Cell boilers, have been a highly anticipated commodity for many years now. Release dates have come and gone but now it seems that realistic proposals have been made for their main-stream production. BlueGen and Viessmann / Panasonic are set to release their Fuel Cell boilers in 2014.
A Fuel cell boiler is a boiler that takes energy from fuel (natural gas or LPG) at a chemical level instead of during a combustion process. A simplistic view of a fuel cell is a cross between a battery (chemical to electrical generator) and a heat engine (chemical to heat to generator via oxidation). It’s said that this method can not only be much more carbon efficient but also improve the efficiency of the whole heat and power generation process. The technology extracts more energy from the fuel than its predecessor’s combustion method. Hailed by many as ‘the future of domestic carbon depletion’, this co-generation technology* may well be available to UK households by early next year.
The Viessmann Group and Panasonic Corporation are set to release the first fuel cell co-generation system or polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PECF) for domestic use in Germany in April 2014. The units will be available on the UK market as soon as practicable after this date. The fuel cell unit has been developed by Panasonic, and the peak load boiler and hot water tank by Viessmann, who will also handle the unit’s assembly. The unit is expected to cut carbon emissions when compared to a standard gas condenser boiler by up to 50% and have outstanding energy efficiency and reliability. By 2020 Panasonic and Viessmann expect to have achieved a five-figure installation in European properties; however this figure could be vastly higher.
For further information on the Panasonic/Viessmann microCHP unit click here.
The new BlueGen boiler also uses ceramic fuel cells to electrochemically convert gas into heat and electricity. The unit is about the size of a standard washing machine and is said to save the average household up to 14.5 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide a year, create 200 liters of ‘free’ hot water per day and produce up to 36 kWh of electricity per day. It is currently only available to showcase sites, green buildings, local councils and other commercial consumers. They are however planned for release to the UK domestic market imminently, but we have no exact date as of yet. The price has yet to be announced and may well play a big part in the commercial success of this unit.
Read more about the BluGen unit here.
It’s worth noting that although fuel cell microCHP units are very carbon efficient, cutting out the ‘dirty’ process of combustion, they are not carbon neutral. This sheds an element of doubt over the longevity of the technology, as it will not adhere to the government’s plans for all new UK homes to be Carbon neutral by 2016. This said the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme has guaranteed the payment period on microCHP for ten years. The BlueGen Carbon savings calculator can be found here (http://bluegen.info/calc/)
Energy prices have more than doubled over the past ten years, and it is highly unlikely that they will fall in the future. Quite the contrary, as resources become more and more scarce it is expected that energy costs will continue to rise at an alarming rate. Technology that increases the useable energy harnessed from fuel, in regards to the power and heat generation process, and reduces a property’s overall carbon footprint, will enable your home to become more independent of the rising energy prices whilst helping protect our children’s futures.
*co-generation is a term defined by ‘a single device that generates both electrical power and usable heat in a single process’.