DOE announced on July 19 that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will install and operate 18 fuel cell backup power systems at eight military installations across the country as part of an interagency partnership with DOE. The eight installations include the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms in California; Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado; Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey; the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; the Ohio National Guard in Columbus, Ohio; and Fort Hood in Texas. The projects will test how the fuel cells perform in real world operations, identify technical improvements manufacturers could make to enhance performance, and highlight the benefits of fuel cells for emergency backup power applications.
A fuel cell works like a battery that is constantly kept charged by feeding a fuel such as natural gas or hydrogen into its anode, or negative terminal. Compared with diesel generators, which are often used for backup power, fuel cells use no petroleum, are quieter, and produce fewer pollutants and emissions. Fuel cells also typically require less maintenance than either generators or batteries do, and they can easily be monitored remotely to reduce maintenance time. The primary challenge facing currently available fuel cells is the higher first cost for the units, compared with the first costs of conventional technologies they replace. Targeted fuel cell demonstrations such as this one may increase the scale of deployment and help improve the economics of the technology, which could lead to more widespread adoption and use.
The projects will be conducted under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two departments in July 2010. LOGANEnergy will manage the project, using fuel cells from ReliOn, Inc.; Altergy Systems; Idatech, LLC; and Hydrogenics Corporation. The $6.6 million project is a joint effort of DOD’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. DOD will manage the project, and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will collect performance data for the first two years of the five-year demonstration. The NREL data will be available to fuel cell developers and commercial and government leaders interested in adopting this technology. See the DOE press release, the MOU, and DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program website, which includes a basic description of how a fuel cell works.