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Even though some question the viability of fuel cells as an energy option, given lifespan concerns, some household-name businesses are giving them a try.
Since UTC Power began selling its fuel cell “power plants” in the early 1990s, the company (an offshoot of United Technologies) has installed them in more than 19 countries and 300 installations.
Now, it competes with companies including Bloom Energy and ClearEdge.
UTC Power’s latest offering is PureCell 400, which uses natural gas to create 400 kilowatts of electrical power. The company claims a stack-life of up to 10 years for the technology, almost double the lifespan of rivals. The unit shown is installed at a year-old 55-square-foot Albertson's store in San Diego.
Photos in this gallery are used courtesy of UTC Power, Clear Edge and Bloom Energy.
Read more about prime fuel cells in Heather Clancy's blog.
Architect Bruce Becker of Becker and Becker in Connecticut has used UTC Power fuel cells in multiple locations, including 360 State Street (pictured) in New Haven. The building is a 500-unit Platinum-certified site under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building system.
The Octagon, a 500-unit LEED-certified apartment building on Roosevelt Island, NY, is the first residential building in the state to be powered and heated by a 400-kilowatt fuel cell from UTC Power. The building uses 35 percent less energy than require by code. The project earned $1.2 million in financial "incentives" from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Coca-Cola has invested in UTC Power fuel cells in multiple locations. The Model 400 unit shown here is powering its bottling plant in East Hartford, Conn. Coca-Cola has also invested in technology from Bloom Energy to the tune of 500 kilowatts at its Odwalla production facility in Dinuba, Calif.
In June 2011, Whole Foods took delivery of UTC Power fuel cell technology at its fourth store location. Tristam Coffin, green mission specialist with the Whole Foods Market's Northeast region, says the cells make sense where utility costs are particularly high.
Stone Edge Farm, an organic farm and winery in California, expects to save 49 percent on its annual electricity bill by opting for the ClearEdge 5 fuel cell. The technology is a 5-kilowatt fuel cell that runs on natural gas, which makes ClearEdge technology attractive even for smaller companies. The energy will be focused on running the farm's irrigation system and lights.
ClearEdge Power was established in 2003. Its technology is intended for residential and small commercial buildings.
LINC Housing, a non-profit in Long Beach, Calif., has installed two ClearEdge5 fuel cells at The Palace Hotel, a 13-apartment building that provides affordable housing for youth. Between the 5-kilowatt fuel cells and a photovoltaic solar panel installation, the building will generate 100 percent of its electricity and heat from alternative sources.
One of upstart Bloom Energy's marquee customers is retailer Walmart. The company has completed Bloom Energy Server installations at two stores in Southern California. Each of the installations, powered by biogas, has a capacity of 400 kilowatts. Together, they can generate 3.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
One of Bloom Energy's earliest customers (so also one to watch for lifespan concerns) was Internet service giant Google. The company reports that the 400-kilowatt capacity installation in Mountain View, Calif., delivered 3.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity in the first 18 months. "Availability" was reported at 98 percent.
Bloom Energy reports that its 500-kilowatt installation at eBay complements the e-commerce giant's 650-kilowatt solar array. The servers delivered 2.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in the first six months, offsetting more than 650,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The installation was the first Bloom Energy server deployment powered entirely by renewable biogas.
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