Fuel cells generate electricity with no combustion. They are like large, continuously operating batteries that generate electricity using fuel such as natural gas. Since the fuel is not burned, there is no pollution commonly associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. The technology is similar to what helps power NASA's space shuttle.
These units range in size from 3 kilowatts (kW) for residential homes to 200 kW for commercial offices, to several megawatts for utility plants. The waste heat generated by fuel cells also can be used for heating and air conditioning. The by-products of fuel cells are heat, water, and carbon dioxide, making them an environmentally friendly method of electric generation. A typical 4-bedroom home using 15,000 kWh of electricity that converts to a fuel cell would have the same environmental benefits as removing two cars from the state's highways.
Commercial fuel cells are available now, while residential units are still under development. The race to bring fuel cells to market is focusing on size and cost reductions, as well as performance improvements. For maximum residential marketability, the consensus is that the size should be about one-third of the current size, or as small as a central air conditioning unit. Performance improvements are targeting design of the electrochemical process that converts the gas to hydrogen. Costs are expected to decrease as production volumes increase.
Parsippany Hotel Cuts Energy Costs With Fuel Cell
The Starwood Hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey, is contributing to a cleaner and healthier environment with the installation of a 250 kW fuel cell supplied with natural gas by NJNG. This space-age technology will provide about 25 percent of the hotel's electricity and hot water needs, saving them approximately $50,000 in annual energy costs.
Ocean County College Leads the Way With Fuel Cell Technology
Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey, is the first higher education institution in NJNG's service territory to install a fuel cell. The 250 kW fuel cell offers high standards for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient operation, and is estimated to save about $60,000 per year.
The system is designed to serve about 90 percent of the power needs and 20 percent of the heating needs for the instructional building, lecture hall and nursing arts building. In addition, it will also meet 20 percent of the heating needs for the administration building, gymnasium, library and planetarium.