Market Opportunities For Fuel Cells In Argentina

C.M. Marschoff

Dpt. of Chemical Engineering - University of Buenos Aires Ciudad Universitaria - (1428) Buenos Aires - Argentina Jaime Lande and Silvina Espindola Jaime Lande & Asociados Larrea 785 - (1030) Buenos Aires - Argentina

Electricity in Argentina is mainly supplied through the National Interconnected System (NIS) grid, that manages the generation of all medium and large size utilities (thermal, hydro and nuclear) in the country. However, there are still large areas not linked to the NIS: electricity there either comes from utilities that mainly work with diesel groups, or is obtained by individuals from 1-5 kW generators (mostly IC powered, although —some wind and solar devices also exist). Finally, in many low-income rural and semi-rural sites, there is no electric generation at all.

In this context, we wish to show that there is an important market niche where fuel cells should be competitive and that this market size justifies a detailed investment analysis. Thus, we have performed economic calculations in three sites, which are representative samples of different structural situations, in which costs of fuel cell produced electricity are conpared to presently existing devices. Also, calculations were carried out for use of fuel cells in Antarctica.

Sites with base generation through a diesel group: We have chosen for this case the small town of Bandera Bajada, which was previously studied by one of us (1), and have made the calculations for the present situation at this place. In Table 1 the present cost of electricity is detailed while, in Table 2, the break-even capital cost for fuel cells, which are assumed to work with compressed natural gas, is obtained assuming that book life is 10 years and that the investment would have obtained an 8% interest rate during this time.

Sites where diesel groups work as back-up of other devices: The town of Aluminé, also previously studied and where a micro-hydroturbine is the base generator, was taken as a representative case. Table 3 shows the present electricity production cost for the diesel group and Table 4 gives the obtained results for the case in which diesel groups are substituted by fuel cells fed with natural gas which is now available at this town.

Sites in which electricity is individually generated: The Paraná River Delta region was taken since this is the most important case in the country of this kind of situation. Presently, electricity is produced at most during 4-5 hours per day because of the noise that IC engines produce and, also, because generation costs in this condition are quite large. In this respect it must be pointed out thah some estimations indicate that the real cost of electricity at the Delta is over 1 US$/Kwh (2). If the large amounts of landfill produced methane that exist in this zone are used to feed fuel cells, 40 Kw groups producing

60000 Kwh/year to be distributed among groups of 200-500 neighbours would have a break-even capital cost of 2650 US$/kW.

Fuel cell utilization in Antarctica: Energy needs at scientific bases in Antarctica are presently satisfied by direct combustion of hydrocarbons, mainly gas oil, fuel oil and gasoline. This fact poses two problems: first, the polluting effect of these fuels which must be eliminated in terms of the Antarctic Agreement which has been signed by all nations operating or with interest in that continent; second, the very high cost of fuel transportation makes electricity obtained by the low efficiency diesel generators and IC engines very expensive. Methanol fed fuel cells were chosen as substitute after analysis of different alternative fuels and, if the 6 Argentinian bases electricity generation were carried on by modified PC25 generators, the figures shown in Tables 5-7 are obtained.

These results indicate that there seem to be several market niches in Argentina for fuel cells: diesel generators account for more than 400 MW installed power, a significant number of people is now living on individually generated electricity and more than 50 scientific bases in Antarctica would welcome switching to fuel cell generators. Time seems ripe ' for a detailed investment analysis on these three areas.

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