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Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

While many fuel cells run at moderate temperatures, a couple specific types produce a significant amount of heat.  These types of fuel cells, namely molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs), and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), can be configured so that excess heat is captured and put to work.  This is done exclusively with stationary fuel cells.  Power plants that generate energy in the form of both heat and electricity are called Combined Heat and Power (CHP) or cogeneration plants.  CHP fuel cell systems can simultaneously provide for an entire building’s electricity and heating needs, effectively reducing utility bills by killing two birds with one stone.
The heat energy harnessed from CHP systems can fulfill a variety of needs.  Hotels can heat pools with CHP systems.  Small residential fuel cells with CHP, termed micro-CHP, can take the place of a house’s water heater.  Special devices called adsorption chillers can use heat to produce cooling power for air conditioning or refrigeration needs.  Fuel cells supplying power, heat, and cooling are sometimes referred to as trigeneration plants.

Fuel cells are already remarkably energy efficient, harnessing 40-60% of fuel energy where traditional combustion power plants do 30%.  CHP systems are even stingier with energy; many see efficiencies of 80% and higher.  Higher efficiency means lower fuel consumption, lower utility bills, and reduced emissions.

Cool Examples
Many grocery stores have already selected fuel cell CHP as their preferred source of power.  Grocery stores have large refrigeration and electricity needs.  During power outages refrigerated food spoils, resulting in major losses of inventory.  This is very costly.  Traditionally, grocery stores have needed to keep generators and fuel on hand for rare use during outages.  Instead, grocery stores can now employ fuel cells for electricity and refrigeration needs while eliminating the need for backup power if the grid fails.  Couple that with lower costs and great environmental credibility, and you get happy shoppers and grocers all around.



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