Wood-Fired Fuel Cells In Selected Buildings

D McIlveen-Wright, DJ Guiney

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    24 Citations (Scopus)


    The positive attributes of fuel cells for high efficiency power generation at any scale and of biomass as a renewable energy source which is not intermittent, location-dependent or very difficult to store, suggest that a combined heat and power (CHP) system consisting of a fuel cell integrated with a wood gasifier (FCIWG) may offer a combination for delivering heat and electricity cleanly and efficiently. Phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC) systems, fuelled by natural gas, have already been used in a range of CHP applications in urban settings. Some of these applications are examined here using integrated biomass gasification/fuel cell systems in CHP configurations. Five building systems, which have different energy demand profiles, are assessed. These are a hospital, a hotel, a leisure centre, a multi-residential community and a university hall of residence. Heat and electricity use profiles for typical examples of these buildings were obtained and the FCIWG system was scaled to the power demand. The FCIWG system was modelled for two different types of fuel cell, the molten carbonate and the phosphoric acid. In each case an oxygen-fired gasification system is proposed, in order to eliminate the need for a methane reformer. Technical, environmental and economic analyses of each version were made, using the ECLIPSE process simulation package. Since fuel cell lifetimes are not yet precisely known, economics for a range of fuel cell lifetimes have been produced. The wood-fired PAFC system was found to have low electrical efficiency (13–16%), but much of the heat could be recovered, so that the overall efficiency was 64–67%, suitable where high heat/electricity values are required. The wood-fired molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) system was found to be quite efficient for electricity generation (24–27%), with an overall energy efficiency of 60–63%. The expected capital costs of both systems would currently make them uncompetitive for general use, but the specific features of selected buildings in rural areas, with regard to the high cost of importing other fuel, and/or lack of grid electricity, could still make these systems attractive options. Any economic analysis of these systems is beset with severe difficulties. Capital costs of the major system components are not known with any great precision. However, a guideline assessment of the payback period for such CHP systems was made. When the best available capital costs for system components were used, most of these systems were found to have unacceptably long payback periods, particularly where the fuel cell lifetimes are short, but the larger systems show the potential for a reasonable economic return.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)393-404
    JournalJournal of Power Sources
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 25 May 2003


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