Fuel cells are a further option to convert hydrogen into electricity and heat, producing only water and no direct emissions. Fuel cells can achieve high electric efficiencies of over 60% (above 80% overall efficiency when also including the heat output) and reveal a higher efficiency in part load than full load, which makes them particularly attractive for flexible operations such as load balancing. Molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) operate with 600°C and 800-1 000°C, respectively, at higher temperatures, which allows them to run on different hydrocarbon fuels, without the need for an external reformer to produce hydrogen first. MCFCs are used in the MW scale for power generation (due to their low power density, resulting in a relatively large size).
In general, these fuel cells offer a versatile and adaptable choice for producing huge amounts of power, with applications in a range of settings and industries. Overall, factors like rising demand for clean energy, supportive governmental policies, and the development of hydrogen infrastructure are projected to spur further growth in the market for large-scale fuel cell applications in the coming years. The following industries can be approached:
- Fuel cells may be used in microgrids to provide stable, dependable, and resilient electricity to communities, particularly in rural or off-grid areas.
- Distributed power generation, which locates small power plants close to the location of consumption. For instance, in the United States, FuelCell Energy has installed several MWs of fuel cell capacity for distributed power production, including at colleges, military sites, and wastewater treatment facilities.
- Fuel cells can also be used in combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which use the leftover heat from the generation of electricity to provide heating or cooling. CHP systems may be very efficient and cost-effective in buildings with large energy needs, such as hospitals or colleges.