PEM Fuel Cells Make a Powerful Case for Small Business Backup

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1 White Paper PEM Fuel Cells Make a Powerful Case for Small Business Backup Jack Basi & Neil Farquharson

2 Contents PEM Fuel Cells Make a Powerful 3 Backup Power: Big Challenge for Small Retail Locations 4 Figure 1: The basic operation of the PEM fuel cell 4 Power Reliability 5 Maintenance Requirements 5 System Capacity 6 Environmental Impact 6 PEM Fuel Cells: A Growing Market 7 Figure 2: The number of HFC backup power systems deployed since Benefits Beyond Green 8 Sources of Hydrogen Fuel 8 Recommendations 9 The Best Decision Is an Informed One 9 Sources 10 2

3 On August 14, 2003, a massive blackout along both sides of the US/Canadian border left an estimated 50 million people in the dark. The outage, caused by a software bug in the alarm system at a control room, affected an estimated 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight US states. Eleven deaths were blamed on the problem and the financial toll was estimated at $6.5 billion. 1 The August 2003 blackout as seen from space The event prompted officials at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory to undertake a nationwide study to identify and quantify the cost of power outages in the US Their conclusion: each year, power outages in the US cost an estimated $80 billion. 2 Nine years later, in their 2013 report, forecasting experts at Hartford Steam Boiler placed the estimated annual losses from power failure in the US at $100 billion. 3 Severe weather is the leading cause of power outages in the US, contributing to an estimated 679 widespread power outages between 2003 and Other causes of power failures include an increasing demand for power, aging infrastructure and human error. Even the infiltration of rodents and reptiles into power substations can be enough to disrupt power service. More than 500,000 businesses and consumers experience electrical power problems every day, with the average power outage lasting two hours. 5 The average downtime is relatively short, but the effects can be significant. According to Price Waterhouse research, once an outage has occurred: percent of companies take more than a day to recover percent of companies take more than a week 3. It can take up to 48 hours to reconfigure a network 4. It can take days or weeks to re-enter lost data percent of companies that experience a computer disaster and don t have a survival plan go out of business within 18 months 3

4 Especially hard hit are small- and medium-size retail outlets whose lack of space and/or financial resources limits their options for dependable backup power solutions. This sizable market includes independently owned stores, as well as chain stores and retail banking locations. CommScope has developed this paper as a resource for business owners and regional facility managers. It outlines the backup power alternatives available to small- and mid-size retail locations, and discusses the potential for hydrogen fuel cell technology to provide an affordable, clean and sustainable backup power solution. Backup Power: Big Challenge for Small Retail Locations Whether it s a single branch of a large national bank, a smaller regional drugstore or an independent bookstore, all small- to mid-size retailers must prepare for the occasional power outage. Traditionally, businesses have relied on a combination of generators and lead acid batteries for backup power. These solutions are permanently installed on an exterior concrete slab in a climate-controlled enclosure and hardwired into the building s electrical system. When a power outage occurs, the facility s electrical system initially shifts the power load to the batteries and the generator is started. Once the generator reaches full power, the load switches to the GenSet. When grid power is restored, the switch reconnects all attached circuits back to the utility lines and turns the generator off. For several decades, GenSets have been the traditional solution for standby and backup power for retail locations. Still, commercial users are plagued by persistent issues with generators, including maintenance and space requirements, unreliable operation, inefficient delivery of power and the impact of noise and air pollution. In the absence of viable alternatives, issues with generators were tolerated. Recently, however, the emergence of advanced hydrogen fuel cell technology has more retail owners and managers re-thinking their backup power strategy. Excess Fuel Electrical Current H 2 e- e- e- e- H+ H+ H+ H+ Water and Heat Out H 2 O O 2 Hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) are a low-maintenance solution that is gaining momentum in the market as a reliable alternative source of backup power. HFCs are electrochemical devices that use hydrogen fuel and atmospheric oxygen to generate clean and quiet direct current electricity. As shown in Figure 1, hydrogen diffuses to the anode catalyst, where it dissociates into protons and electrons. These protons react with oxidants, causing them to become multi-facilitated. The protons are conducted through the electrically insulated membrane to the cathode. Unable to transverse the insulated membrane, the electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit. This flow of electrons creates the electrical current. On the cathode side, oxygen molecules react with the protons and electrons to form water. Fuel In Anode Electrolyte Air In Cathode Over the years, a variety of HFC technologies have been developed in order to optimize performance for specific applications. The most common types include proton exchange membrane (PEM), phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC), solid oxide fuel cell and molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC). PEM fuel cells are suited for smaller capacities (2 200 kw), while PAFCs and MCFCs are suited for higher capacities (50 kw 10 MW and 200 kw 100 MW, respectively). 6 Figure 1: This illustrates the basic operation of the PEM fuel cell. Among these, the PEM fuel cell is the most common. At the heart of the PEM fuel cell is the membrane electrode assembly. It consists of a proton exchange membrane sandwiched between two catalyst-coated carbon papers. Platinum and/or similar types of noble metals are typically used as the catalyst material while the electrolyte is typically a polymer membrane. 4

5 Approximately 95 percent of fuel cells in the world are based on PEM technology. 7 London Research International May 2012 On-site, an HFC solution is deployed in banks whose size depends on the backup power requirements of the business. Similar to GenSets, it ties directly into the facility s main power supply but does not require a transfer switch. HFCs particularly those using PEM technology have specific properties that make them especially suited for use as backup power solutions for small- to mid-size retail locations. Power Reliability A standby or backup power source may only be called into use for a few hours each year; but, when needed, it absolutely must function as expected. A key concern with the use of GenSets is their ability to perform when called into action. According to Arshad Mansoor, Senior Vice President for Research & Development with the Electric Power Research Institute, backup generators fail to start about 15 percent of the time. 8 The issue is the high-wear mechanical design of the technology. GenSets depend on a complex system of moving parts, which, over time, suffer physical degradation. The wear is compounded by the fact that generators are sensitive to temperature extremes. Diesel fuel, for example, is prone to gelling in cold weather, causing it to solidify into a partially crystalline state. In high temperatures, the systems must be kept cool in order to prevent overheating during start-up. Because there is no way to know when a GenSet will be called into service, the user must regulate the temperature inside the enclosure at all times. Generators are a huge cost up front. They are very expensive to maintain and run, and you only use them in emergencies. When they don t work, it s frustrating. 8 Bloomberg Businessweek PEM fuel cells, however, work with a chemical reaction with no moving parts to wear out and fail. Hydrogen fuel cells are also unaffected by extreme heat or cold. The ability to operate between minus 40 and minus 46 degrees Celsius makes them suitable for deployment nearly anywhere in the world. It also enables users to significantly reduce OpEx by eliminating the heating and cooling cost associated with GenSets. Maintenance Requirements Keeping GenSets ready requires regular maintenance. It is typically recommended that maintenance be performed monthly, at minimum, and preferably on a weekly basis. Weekly duties include inspecting for leaks, wear, damage, loose connections and corrosion; checking fuel, oil and coolant levels; and inspecting the fuel delivery system, battery charger and wiring, and air inlets and outlets. 9 Fuel must also be sampled and checked on a regular basis and filtered prior to use. Tiny changes in fuel quality and engine performance can cause poor combustion and result in the build-up of abrasive hard carbons that accelerate wear inside the bores. Combustion issues also can also create soot and unburnt fuel residues, which clog and gum piston rings, causing a further drop in sealing efficiency and exacerbating the initial low pressure. In addition to inspecting and testing the generator s critical components, monthly maintenance should also involve load testing, in which the generator is used to power facility equipment as in a real blackout. 8 Users of PEM fuel cells face none of these issues. As previously mentioned, the fuel cell has no moving parts to wear, so there is virtually no maintenance involved. Fuel cells can sit untouched and idle for years at a time and, when called upon, start up reliably and quickly. Unlike generators, which require trained personnel on site to handle monitoring and periodic start-up, PEM fuel cells can be monitored and managed on-line. 5

6 As for issues regarding the storage and effects of fuel, PEM fuel cells have none. The most common fuel source for smaller fuel cell backup power systems is hydrogen gas. Inside the cell, the hydrogen is converted into electricity with little perceptible change to the cell s internal components. The working life span of the typical PEM fuel cell is at least ten years and greater than 5000 start-up/shut-down cycles. System Capacity Diesel generators are capable of delivering tremendous power, but their design makes them notoriously inefficient. In order to maximize efficiency, manufacturers recommend operating standby and backup power generators at approximately 30 percent, or less, of their stated maximum load capacity. This means that a business needing 5kW of backup power should purchase a GenSet rated for more than 15kW. Damage due to misuse or misapplication, usually from improper sizing, is common and can lead to generators that seem finicky and require excessive attention. Therefore, proper sizing of the solution is critical to avoid low load or a shortage of power. PEM fuel cells, meanwhile, are considered to have the highest energy density of all hydrogen fuel cells, as well as the quickest start-up time 10, taking less than 45 seconds to reach full power. The faster startup time enables users to conserve batteries. They can produce continuous electricity as long as hydrogen and air are provided. Environmental Impact Businesses today are increasingly looking to reduce their environmental footprint by decreasing carbon emissions, fossil fuel consumption and noise output. Switching their backup power source from diesel generators to PEM fuel cells enables them to reduce their footprint while increasing power reliability and efficiency. In 1994 the EPA, major diesel engine manufacturers and the California Air Research Board collaborated to release a structured plan aimed at reducing the amount of diesel engine emissions. The program was a reaction to a government study that identified diesel as a substantial contributor to poor air quality in the US. 11 Today, harmful emissions continue to be a major concern for those who use or work around diesel generators. Nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, and particulate matter are just a few of the byproducts created by GenSets. Generator noise is also a major concern. Emergency generators can easily exceed 100 decibels 12, as loud as a jackhammer as heard from 30 feet away. Due to the dangerous emissions and operating noise levels of generators, many municipalities now require businesses to obtain a site permit before installation. Fuel cells, by comparison, have very little environmental impact. They use a renewable and plentiful fuel and the only byproducts are heat and water. Fuel cells also reduce noise emissions. Since fuel cells do not rely on combustion and have few moving parts, they are very quiet about 60 decibels, the volume of a typical conversation. With noise pollution all but eliminated, fuel cells can be sited indoors or outdoors without being obtrusive. 13 6

7 PEM Fuel Cells: A Growing Market In 2007 the early-stage commercialization of PEM fuel cells began in earnest. 14 Today, PEM HFCs are quickly making inroads in a wide range of commercial applications. The most common include: backup power for cell tower base stations and commercial facilities; primary power for materials handling vehicles; and portable power solutions for electronics. According to estimates from Pike Research, world-wide annual demand for hydrogen as a fuel will reach 418 million kg in 2020, while the number of stationary fuel cells in use could exceed 350,000 by Cumulative Systems Deployed Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q3 (Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory) Figure 2: This shows the number of HFC backup power systems deployed since In its July 2013 industry report 16, Fuel Cell Today pointed out the following: Overall fuel cell system shipments in 2012 grew by 86 percent compared to 2011 Between 2011 and 2012, portable fuel cell system shipments nearly tripled, growing by 174 percent to 18,900 units 2013 estimated shipments of fuel cell systems should increase by 46 percent over 2012, reaching over 66,800, while annual megawatts shipped are expected to grow by 29 percent, reaching

8 Recent articles and announcements by auto vendors suggest trends away from electric vehicles and toward fuel cell electric vehicles. 17 Auto manufacturers believe that consumers will be attracted by the fast turn-around time of refueling with hydrogen versus recharging batteries, and with the lighter weight of hydrogen fuel cell systems. Benefits Beyond Green As the most widely used HFC technology, PEM fuel cells are often touted for their ability to provide clean, renewable and affordable power. There are other benefits, however, that make them an excellent source of backup power for smaller locations. As a power solution, PEM fuel cells have an exceptionally high energy density, meaning a large amount of power can be generated from a relatively small physical footprint. In fact, the energy density of hydrogen 52,000 Btu/lb is three times greater than that of gasoline. PEM fuel cells also provide users a high degree of flexibility. Fuel cell banks are modular in design and can vary output quickly to meet shifts in power demand. HFCs use a parallel configuration for redundant power backup such that, should one or more cells in the bank fail, system functioning will not be affected. Unlike GenSets, HFCs eliminate the cost and time required to install and connect automatic transfer switches and rectifiers. Fuel cells can also be deployed in a very short time as no onsite special building or heavy earthmoving equipment is needed for site preparation or installation. Sources of Hydrogen Fuel As noted previously, PEM fuel cells utilize hydrogen gas, one of the most plentiful fuels available. Delivery of hydrogen fuel is widely available throughout the world from a variety of local, regional, and international suppliers. As a fuel, hydrogen gas is safe to transport, handle and store. It is typically delivered in high-pressure cylinders that are 1.64 meters (64 inches) in height. Various purity grades are available, with percent purity among the most common for PEM fuel cells. Hydrogen can be supplied directly or derived from natural gas, methanol or petroleum using a fuel processor. 18 A number of distribution models and technologies are available that can provide a ready supply of fuel. Direct hydrogen delivery: In locations where hydrogen is a by-product of industrial process or fossil fuel industries, it can be inexpensively sourced and delivered in refillable tanks. Reformation of hydrogen-carrying fuels: To resolve some of the issues with sourcing and transporting bottled hydrogen, other hydrogen-carrying fuels can be used, including methanol, liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas and ammonia. These fuels are pretreated to release the pure hydrogen. This method enables the use of fuels with a greater energy density, enabling longer run-times between refueling. Hydrogen generation by electrolysis: Electrolysis-based fuel cells can use excess energy from other power sources, including other renewable fuels, in order to produce hydrogen through electrolysis. The hydrogen fuel is then stored until it is required. 8

9 Recommendations In deciding whether a PEM fuel cell is the best solution for a specific environment, CommScope recommends managers consider the following: Manufacturer s maintenance requirements Ability to reach full output power quickly, typically within a minute of grid power failure Estimated working life, given the operating environment Available space versus the footprint of the solution being considered Ease of relocating the backup power solution should the business move The effects of excessive noise on the business environment Web-based control and monitoring capabilities Municipal ordinances and regulatory requirements The Best Decision Is an Informed One Throughout this paper, we ve asserted that benefits of fuel cell technology as compared to existing backup power solutions are compelling. The technology s potential is reinforced by the robust growth of the market as well as the increase in private and public investment. At the same time, the results reflect the relative immaturity of the market, more from the supply side than the demand side. Initially, CapEx is the biggest barrier for potential adopters. However, as the technology matures and the supply chains evolve, this is expected to change. It is commonly accepted that the cost of PEM fuel cell systems will continue to drop, particularly as the market grows, volumes increase and production becomes more competitive. Fuel cell costs have dropped by around 20 percent in the past two years, a trend that is expected to continue. 19 Customers can look for better, faster and more affordable hydrogen re-fueling options as well. What we do know is that the number and frequency of power outages for businesses relying on the grid will continue to increase. Fully 70 percent of US transmission lines and power transformers are now more than 25 years old, while 60 percent of all circuit breakers exceed 30 years in age. 20 Similar aging power grids are also common throughout the developed world. Couple those facts with the increasing demand being placed on the infrastructure, and the message is clear and urgent. Regardless of size, businesses must be prepared to deal with more and longer power outages. For the small- to mid-size business owner or regional manager, accurately assessing all the variables involved is critical in selecting the right backup power solution. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that any decision regarding the facility s backup power solution be made in partnership with an experienced and qualified expert, who can help you sort through the available options and objectively decide which strategy is the best one for your business. 9

10 Sources The Economic Impacts of the August 2003 Blackout; Electricity Consumers Resource Council (ELCON); February 9, 2004 Understanding the Cost of Power Interruptions to US Electricity Consumers, Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; September 2004 New Model Promises to Quantify Losses Triggered by Power Outages; Claims Journal; August 30, 2013 Economic benefits of increasing electric grid resilience to weather outages; US Department of Energy; August 2013 Real-Time Monitoring and Analysis Solution for Electrical Power Infrastructure; AutomatedBuildings.com; July 2010 Fuel Cycle Comparison of Distributed Power Generation Technologies; Argonne National Laboratory; November 2008 Technology Feature: Hydrogen PEM Fuel Cells; London Research International newsletter; May 2012 How to Keep a Generator Running When You Lose Power; Bloomberg Businessweek; December 4, 2012 Recommended Practice for Maintaining Emergency and Standby Engine-Generator Sets; Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company; 2009 PEMFC Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells Portal; Diesel Generator Engine Emissions Explained; Diesel Service and Supply website Benefits; Fuel Cell 2000 website; Simplifying mass production of PEM fuel cell technology; Renewable Energy Focus; January 2014 Early Fuel Cell Activity is Creating New Markets for Hydrogen; Navigant Research; November 2011 The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2013; Fuel Cell Today; July 2013 L.A. Auto Show: Will fuel cells make battery electric cars obsolete?; Los Angeles Times; November 18, 2013 Future looks brighter for fuel cells; The Globe and Mail; September 24, 2013 Fuel Cell Systems for Base Stations; GSMA white paper; 2011 Has the Time Finally Arrived for Fuel Cells? Some Private Investors are Beginning to Think So; Forbes Magazine; November Visit our Web site or contact your local CommScope representative for more information CommScope, Inc. All rights reserved. All trademarks identified by or are registered trademarks or trademarks, respectively, of CommScope, Inc. This document is for planning purposes only and is not intended to modify or supplement any specifications or warranties relating to CommScope products or services. WP EN (2/14) 10

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