Fuel cell firms pitch hydrogen as UPS alternative

Ballard Power Systems and other organizations are demonstrating three applications using the company’s fuel cells with the aim of speeding up the expansion of a hydrogen-based economy in Canada.

Under its h2 Early Adopters

Program, the Canadian government is funding half of the $4-million initiative, and the remaining money will come from participants like MGE UPS Systems, Bell Canada Holdings, Emerson Network Power Canada, Praxair Distribution and the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

The demonstration will showcase Ballard’s fuel cell technology for uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and backup power applications for the power generation market.

Fuel cells can be used for transportation, stationary power for the distributed generation market (for offices and hospitals) and backup power, explained Christopher Cheh, director of the Centre for Emerging Energy Technologies based at U of T’s campus in Mississauga, Ont.

The University of Toronto is connecting Ballard’s UPS system to its server to provide backup power for its computer system in Mississauga, said Cheh.

“”If there is power interruption from the grid, we will be able to maintain the computer servers or computer assets,”” said Cheh, whose employer earmarked about $300,000 for this project with Ballard, which will commence early next year.

The campus will also be demonstrating next summer fuel cell technology in its university residence townhouses with the help of Fuel Cell Technologies in Kingston, Ont. “”In the residence, it will be a four kilowatt to five kilowatt unit,”” said Cheh. “”So it’s a total of 20 kilowatt units that will provide power to 12 townhouses.

“”We’ve kind of set up a mini-grid. So the heat and power — electricity — of those 12 townhouses will be supplied from these fuel cells.””

U of T set up its emerging energy technology facility last December, and has made significant investments over the last few years in areas like fuel cells, solar energy and micro-turbines, said Cheh.

Other developments in fuel-cell technology include last December’s creation of the Hydrogen Village partnership, a collaboration by industry, government and academia to expedite the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technology in Canada, and highlight the country’s position as an international leader in the sector.

The 26 backers of Hydrogen Village include Air Liquide, Astris Energi Inc., Ontario Power Generation, Pivotal Power and Purolator.

Spearheaded by industry association Fuel Cells Canada, Hydrogen Village is made up mainly of companies in the Greater Toronto Area but also outside the region, such as Ballard, explained Hydrogen Village manager, Ry Smith.

Hydrogen Village is looking for “”projects that are really driven by the end-use community as opposed to projects driven by the technology developers,”” said Smith. He said this involves learning about problems facing organizations that may be solved by turning to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Smith prefers Hydrogen Village’s approach of deploying fuel cells early in an organization to convey the technology is “”useful to the end-use customer,”” and therefore creating a sustainable hydrogen economy, rather than the primary goal of certain demonstration projects to simply show the technology works.

Through these projects, Hydrogen Village has identified real-world market barriers to the sector’s growth, Smith explained. These include: helping smaller fuel-cell providers get their applications into the hands of customers; ensuring the delivery of hydrogen (there are already two GTA-based hydrogen fueling stations near the Canadian National Exhibition and the airport); and developing standards, regulations, reinforcement, the training of first responders to incidents involving hydrogen fuel; education and public awareness.

Although Hydrogen Village’s fundamental goal is to create a hydrogen-friendly marketplace in the GTA, he said, it also wants to link with similar projects in other Canadian cities.

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