ClearEdge, a manufacturer of fuel cells that run on natural gas, announced today that it has secured a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The grant will give ClearEdge working capital to produce and install fuel cells in 10 new businesses in Oregon and California. The funding came from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which will monitor the fuel cells to see if they are producing the kind of energy savings expected for the businesses that purchase them. The fuel cells are connected to the Internet, which will let PNNL researchers monitor them in real-time.
The fuel cells run on natural gas, which is broken down into a hydrogen-rich gas in the fuel cell. The natural gas mixes with oxygen in the fuel cell, inducing a chemical reaction and generating electricity within the cell. The reaction also produces heat, which can be used in commercial heating applications — such as keeping a hotel hot during the winter or heating water for a home instead of requiring a separate water heating source.
The cells capture energy in the form of both electricity and heat, so they are around 90 percent efficient, according to ClearEdge. The fuel cells plug into on a typical power grid, but there are plans to make them independent of a power grid, the company said in its announcement. The fuel cell is about the size of a refrigerator, costs around $56,000 and generates 5 kilowatts of power and 5.8 kilowatts of energy in the form of heat — so it’s a little impractical for typical residential owners.
But the company said it is still focusing on residential markets as well as institutions and commercial applications. Fuel cells also have the potential to power electric cars and other forms of next-generation technology and help cut carbon emissions produced by typical power sources like coal- and fossil-fuel-burning power plants. ClearEdge’s fuel cells do not emit air pollutants and reduce carbon emissions by around 35 to 40 percent, according to the company.