Fuel Cell Technology May Help Meet Current Demand in UK

Fuel cell-based power generation technologies may relieve the inability of current transmission networks to handle excess demand, transmission losses and the costs incurred, as well as concern about power quality at the end points, in the UK.

With the domestic requirement of additional electric power expected to reach 1.7 trillion kWh in 2020, three times the requirement between 1980 to 2000, the ability of any power utility to accommodate such a large incremental load using only its existing transmission and distribution network is dubious. The reluctance of power companies to invest in newer power plants due to lack of returns and the widening gap between the demand and supply of power are expected to motivate the distributed power generation from fuel cells. Although a research analyst from Frost & Sullivan explains, “fuel cell technologies are considered the most appropriate for its various benefits such as high energy conversion efficiency and its potential to offer reliable and quality power,” the development of fuel cell technologies has been restrained due to high costs, complex designs and fuel problems. Researchers have developed a direct fuel cell-based technology that uses potassium lithium carbonate as the electrolyte; it operates at 1200 degrees Celsius and provides 250 kW to 3 MW power. This technology can help generate electricity directly from hydrocarbon fuels such as natural gas and wastewater treatment gas. This one-step energy conversion process offers significant cost benefits over competing technologies such as phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFC) and proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), which use complex reforming techniques. Leading research institutions and companies prefer fuel cell-based power generation, as the electrochemical conversion of chemical energy to electricity in a fuel cell is a ‘green process.’