Cheap fuel cell no larger than a stack of CDs can power a home

Cheap fuel cell no larger than a stack of CDs can power a home
Depending on where you live in the world, you may have electricity, gas, or both fed into your home. The bill for each depends on how much you use and fluctuates throughout the year. But what if you could replace them with a tiny box that sits on your wall and provides all the power you need (and a lot of heat) for a set price? That’s what the Fraunhofer Institute is trying to achieve with a new fuel cell that runs on natural gas.

This solid fuel cell is made up of a number of stacked cells, each of which is about the same size as a CD. When turned on it can reach temperatures of up to 850 degrees Celsius and efficiently uses natural gas to produce electrical energy, with each box producing one kilowatt. That’s enough to power a 4-person household by today’s standards.

Even though the unit gets so hot it is perfectly safe to install on a wall in a home. In fact, this is already happening with 150 prototype units produced by heating specialist Vaillant being used in houses across Europe.

Pricing for this fuel cell system has not been discussed yet, but it is being promoted as both very efficient and a cheap solution. The fact it runs so hot has allowed the design to be greatly simplified and therefore it’s cheaper to produce. That price is further cut because no precious metals are used in the design. It runs silently making it easy to place anywhere in the home, and can be connected up to an existing gas line as the unit uses a reformer to convert natural gas into hydrogen-rich gas for use by the fuel cell.

So while it may rely on a gas supply, the fuel cell would replace your need for a separate electricity supplier. That in turn should cut your household bills while making your gas bill much more predictable. And don’t forget the heat it produces can be put to good use heating your home or water and is effectively a free byproduct of the unit.

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