Micro Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are designed to pull a greater amount of energy from a fuel and turn it into both heat and electricity. Although the energy is drawn from fossil fuels such as gas and LPG, it is still thought of as low carbon technology that can benefit both domestic households and commercial markets.
Micro CHP isn’t a new invention, many industrial premises have been using it since the 1960s, but the question remains, how much of a benefit can it be in a world that needs smart energy? While many see mCHP as vital to making fossil fuels such as gas more cost effective in the domestic arena, reducing carbon footprints and getting more kWh for our money, it is also has potential for a commercial market that is always looking to reduce costs.
In recent years, the holy grail of Micro CHP technology has been to develop ever more efficient fuel cells that uses an electrochemical reaction to produce heat and electricity from hydrogen rich fuels such as gas and oil. This new technology works at a chemical level rather than burning which means that it has the potential for having a much lower carbon footprint than those powered by Stirling or internal combustion engines.
BDR Thermea recently announced that it was forming a partnership with Toshiba Fuel Cell Power Systems to help develop the technology for domestic homes. The hope is to produce an efficient and affordable home heating system and, according to BDR CEO Rob van Banning: “From both an environmental and energy management perspective, the widespread use of CHP represents a significant step toward the reduction of CO2 emissions as well as a more sustainable approach to the management of energy resources.”
A CHP boiler is also now subject to the government’s feed-in tariff so that it becomes a more attractive proposition to many businesses that need to factor in the initial cost of installation for a new system. Last year, Forbes reported that Japanese company Panasonic had partnered with German heating firm Viessmann to develop a new heating product powered by mCHP fuel cells. According to the report: “The system generates 750 watts of electricity and one kilowatt of thermal energy with a combined efficiency of 90%.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2013/09/12/panasonic-gambles-on-micro-chp-fuel-cells-in-germany/
There’s no doubt that fuel cell technology for CHP has been stuck in the developmental stage for a while, but many believe that the progress over the last 12 months means that it will begin to make huge strides forward in the near future.
The European Commission and related industries have now got together to set up a £1.4 billion research and development phase that will see fuel cell production speed up. Projects such as Ene-Field are already up and running, with over 1,000 fuel cell mCHP systems deployed and more to follow.
In short, fuel cell mCHP technology may well now have passed the point of no return and it could be an ideal opportunity for businesses that use gas and other fossil fuels to further cut their carbon footprints whilst reducing their energy bills over the longer term.