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New fuel-cell grid connection

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 27 September, 2002  (Company News)
The travelling colossus weighs 20 tons and measures over seven meters in length. A few months ago, the core of the 'PEM Oberhausen' power supply system completed its long journey from canadian Vancouver to the Ruhr region in Germany.
On August 27, Ernst Schwanhold, the North Rhine-Westphalia minister for industry, small and medium-sized enterprises, energy and transport, pressed the red start button. Now the power-packed system must prove its performance in practice on the premises of the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT. In combination with a microturbine, a gas engine and a refrigerating unit, it is to serve as a decentralized local power supply system.

Having met the technical challenge of optimizing the interaction of its different components, Dr. Ralf Hiller is now looking forward to the results of test operation. He and his staff will investigate the system's operational behavior in relation to changing demand and how reliably it works. 'The level of efficiency and operating costs are fundamental parameters in determining whether such smaller power units can become successful in future,' the project manager well knows. 'At the moment we are using natural gas as a fuel. However, once we and our partners have gathered sufficient experience, we intend in the medium term to convert the system, making it the world's first plant ever to run on coal mine gas.'

The composition of coalmine gases, which is extracted in large volumes from coalmines not only in the Ruhr region, presents a problem. Unlike conventional gas engines, gases used to power fuel cells must be thoroughly purified. First, the methane content of the mine gas is enriched. A reformer integrated in the system will convert the gas until its hydrogen content reaches around seventy percent.

What does the system produce? Firstly, of course, electrical power, at 40 percent efficiency. 212 kilowatts amounts to the electricity consumption of several hundred one-family houses. The system's electrical unit converts the current and feeds it into the local power grid. 240 kilowatts of process heat are used to heat the institute building. Yet that is not all: The microturbine integrated in the combined heating and power plant generates half as much energy again as the actual fuel cells.
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