Commercial Ballard Pem Fuel Cell Natural Gas Power Plant Development

David S. Watkins, David Dunnison Ballard Power Systems Inc. 9000 Glenlyon Parkway Burnaby, British Columbia Canada V5J 5 J9

Ronald Cohen FCP Engineering 21837 Reflection Lane Boca Raton, Florida USA 33428


The electric utility industry is in a period of rapid change. Deregulation, wholesale and retail wheeling, and corporate restructuring are forcing utilities to adopt new techniques for conducting their business. The advent of a more customer oriented service business with tailored solutions addressing such needs as power quality is a certain product of the deregulation of the electric utility industry. Distributed and dispersed power are fundamental requirements for such tailored solutions. Because of their modularity, efficiency and environmental benefits, fuel cells are a favored solution to implement distributed and dispersed power concepts.

Ballard Power Systems has been working to develop and commercialize Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell power plants for stationary power markets. PEM's capabilities of flexible operation and multiple market platforms bodes well for success in the stationary power market. Ballard's stationary commercialization program is now in its second phase. The construction and successful operation of a 10 kW natural gas fueled, proof-of-concept power plant marked the completion of phase one.

In the second phase, we are developing a 250 kW market entry power plant. This paper discusses Ballard's power plant development plan philosophy, the benefits from this approach, and our current status.

Power Plant Development Plan and Benefits

The Power Plant development plan portion of our commercialization drive consists of:

1. Definition of market needs.

2. Establish a specification for the selected product with help from potential users.

3. Conduct system design and cost trade off studies to define the optimum combination of component technologies and designs in an integrated system to meet the specification.

4. Initiate the Power Plant development effort using available component designs and technologies.

5. Initiate component development and technology advancement programs guided by power plant needs.

6. Field test early power plants to mature reliability of the power plant in the real world of the customer.

7. Upgrade power plants with improvements to the system and components from parallel development and technology programs to enhance functionality, reliability and cost.

8. Periodically adjust vision and development/technology plans based on new information from field testing, design, development/technology programs, cost analysis, user input, and market needs.

The outstanding benefits of this development plan are:

1. A vision for the product at the power plant systems level is established based upon market information to guide technology and power plant development programs. This power plant level specificity prevents unfocused research and development efforts.

2. This vision communicates the product to customers, management, and investors.

3. A corporate vision including multiple product visions and attendant development plans helps to integrate technology and development efforts to improve the efficiency of the overall effort. Test equipment, manufacturing equipment, test and development activities, for example, can encompass a wider range of effect for a small additional effort. The net result is that the programs are less expensive and lead to better, more refined products in the shortest possible time.

250 kW Class Engineering Prototype Power Plant Development Status

The 10 kW proof of concept power plant has successfully demonstrated its key objectives. The power plant was packaged and incorporated all major design features of the commercial unit including pressurization, integral fin-fan cooling heat exchanger, natural gas fuel processor, high voltage stack, inverter, automatic controls, full turndown (0 to 10 kW net AC), load transients and multiple starts.

The 250 kW class engineering prototype power plant is scheduled for assembly with mechanical and electrical verification during the 1st quarter of 1997. Commissioning and initial testing will be completed during the 2nd quarter of 1997. Detailed design of the engineering prototype is now complete, and construction underway. This first unit is 8' x 8' x 24' and weighs 35,000 pounds. This developmental power plant is about 6 feet longer and weighs about 10,000 pounds more than the commercial power plant vision because it contains developmental components, extra hardware for flexibility to prevent component mismatch problems, significant engineering instrumentation, and additional space for access.

Successful operation of the Fuel Processing Subsystem (FPS) up to full power has been achieved. The data has verified the component and subsystem models and sub scale test results used to effect the scale up. Figure 1 shows the 250 kW reformer which is about 40 cubic feet. This is the smallest reformer for its capacity in existence.

Successful operation of the Air Pressurization Subsystem (APS) up to full power has also been achieved. Figure 2 shows the dual turbocharger assembly with inter-cooler attached as it is being constructed to the power plant configuration.

The power plant stack design is complete and short stack tests of full size cells are ongoing. Figure 3 compares a sub scale 0.38 ft2 single cell to the full size 1.4 ft2 single cell that will be used in the 250 kW power plant. Figure 4 shows a 20 cell short stack with the 1.4 ft2 active area.

Final design of the inverter is complete and delivery scheduled for January 1997. The power plant test stand is essentially complete. Additional power plant components have been ordered. Suppliers for advanced and/or production components have been identified and discussions are in process.

In summary, the technology, advanced component designs, and development efforts are very encouraging. Based upon these results, we are confident that further refinement to a mature product meeting specification requirements is on track. We expect this mature product to weigh about 25,000 pounds and possibly less at about 8' x 8' x 18' in overall size. We expect itto have an efficiency of 40% LHV and to be capable of meeting the cost, emissions, noise and other benefits expected of mature fuel cell power plants.

Figurel: 250 kW Reformer
Figure 2: Dual Turbocharger Assembly
Figure 3: 0.38 ft2 vs 1.4 ft2 CeU
Figure 4: 20 Cell Short Stack
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