Fuel Cells

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Plug Power was doen big today on NASDAQ trading, it shot up on oil crisis concerns. It still looks like a critically important technology. Lots to digest here:

From todays NASDAQ NEWS:

Fair use for Educational and Research Purposes

Fuel cell stock advance pauses for profit taking By Jim Brumm

NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The stocks of fuel cell related companies dropped in active trading Tuesday as profit taking caught up with this month's technology high flyers.

The sharp rises started with Plug Power Inc. Fuel Cell Infowhich began the year trading at 26. It reached a high of 84-3/4 four days later on Jan. 7 -- a price that was exceeded on Jan. 19 when the stock traded as high as 87 on its way to Monday's record 156-1/2. Tuesday it dropped as low as 115 before recovering to close at 131, down 5-1/2, on volume of nearly 2.7 million shares.

Even Mechanical Technology Inc. , which gained 12-1/3 Tuesday to close at 65-3/4 on trading of over 1 million shares, was well below its high for the session -- and new all-time high -- of 72-7/8. Mechanical Technology founded Plug Power in May 1997 with DTE Energy Co. , which was off 1-13/16 at 35-3/4 in advance of its expected earnings release Wednesday.

The two companies each retain a 32.5 percent interest in Plug Power, which also has attracted investments from General Electric Co. and Sempra Energy -- both of which were fractionally higher Tuesday.

FAC/Equities alternative energy analyst Brian Fernandez estimates there is a $1.0 billion U.S. market for Plug Power's 7 kilowatt fuel cells at a cost per unit of $4,000, adding this puts the market for the units which are expected to go on sale next year at 250,000.

"We think the mass market potential exceeds $100 billion," he wrote in a report this month.

Fernandez believes Plug Power's technology became economically attractive when it "reduced the cost of platinum (in the cell's catalyst) down to $5 per fuel cell."

Platinum producer Johnson Matthey Plc was up 4.25 percent in London trading Tuesday after a 10 percent Monday gain. But the only U.S. producer of platinum group metals, Montana-based Stillwater Mining , eased 5/8 to 33-1/4 Tuesday.

SatCon Technology , which produces Plug Power's energy management controls, remained below Monday's all-time high of 29-15/16, but managed to end Tuesday's session up 3-5/8 at 25-13/16 on trading of 758,000 shares. SatCon is 7 percent owned by DQE Inc. , which eased 1/16 to 45 Tuesday after trading at a new high of 53 Monday when ABN AMRO analysts pointed out its SatCon holding was worth $4 per DQE share.

FuelCell Energy , a maker of 250 kilowatt fuel cells selected for installation by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, slipped 3 Tuesday and closed at 43.

Canada's Ballard Power Systems , a fuel cell pioneer, also slipped 0.40 in Toronto trading, closing at 93.50.

And Avista , a Spokane, Wash., based utility holding company that joined the fuel cell climb in mid-month slipped 7-3/16 to 46-15/16 on composite trading of 3.2 million shares. It climbed as high as 68 Monday, from 16 on Jan. 11, after Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates purchased a 5 percent of Avista's shares and linked his investment to its fuel cell activities.

-- Bill P (porterwn@one.net), January 27, 2000


Takes a lot of energy and pollution to produce and transport fuel for "clean" fuel cell operation. Anyone paying attention to these factors?

-- Fact Skeptic (worried@fuel.cel), January 27, 2000.

Fact skeptic,

The reformers will work with methanol, vegetable oil, or other "renewable" sources to get the hydrogen. Don't have to use petroleum based stuff. I agree that the current distribution arangement is not very energy efficient, still have a ways to go till the public "wakes up" to the cost of our "modern" lifestyle.

-- Possible Impact (posim@hotmail.com), January 27, 2000.

To the skeptics:

Fuel cells using hydrogen gas produce no pollution, not even CO2. Those that use natural gas or propane produce 1/3 to 1/100 the CO2 that would be produced if the gas was combusted while producing no oxides. This is what Plug Power is selling. You get your electricity and your hot water from them.

Fuel cells that use methanol, also produce 1/3 the CO2 and no oxides or particulates as compared to internal combustion engines. Some fuel cells (ceramic or phosphoric acid) are used to convert landfill gasses to energy. Particuarly methane. Thereby reducing greenhouse gasses.

Fuel cells will be our answer to global warming and foreign energy dependence. The revolutions...agriculture, industrial, transportation, communication, automation, telecommunication....energy. This will revitalize and radically change America in 15 years. As the flow of diverse, cheap information is changing the world now, so will energy in the future. I know, I build them.

-- Surrounded (hiding@thefirststate.com), January 27, 2000.

Hey Surrounded,

Fun job! Are we going to see a review in Home Power or somewhere of your babies?
I'll volunteer to test one if you need a site.(grin)

-- Possible Impact (posim@hotmail.com), January 27, 2000.

Fact Skeptic, yes some of us are aware of your concerns. You are the first besides myself who has mentioned these problems.

Here is a copy of some info I posted on the Renewable Energy/Home Power forum 1/18/2000. It deals with Plug Power and an article praising fuel cells in Mother Earth News.

I've been following fuel cell technology for about fifteen years, off and on.

I would follow it more closely, except that it almost seems like a CULT. I mean, what's the big woop with fuel cells?

The way the Mother Earth describes the technology leaves me thinking that they not only don't understand the concept, but they are for some reason reporting on its us in near religious ravings, filled with untruths, half truths, and seeminly, with hype.

I'm sorry to sound so cynical, but could someone please explain to me how "mining" natural gas, then running it through a generator (which is all this plug power system is, the way they are using it) to make electricity, is such a great deal? Maybe, MAYBE, it's a more efficient generator than an internal combustion engine powered generator (which uses natural gas or propane). The article says that the fuel cell is 40% efficient. I personally think this is less than impressive

As far as "reliability, efficiency, ecology and economy. We'll add one more: autonomy.", I have more questions. How reliable is it? Is it more reliable than the Grid? How efficient is it? I'd like some numbers. Even if it's 100% efficient at turning the Hydrogen into water vapor (which I doubt), is it more efficient than other forms of power generation? I have yet to see any figures to say that it is.

Ecology--I don't see this as ecologically superior. The ME article says that the only byproduct is water vapor and heat. But this is obviously not true. If you take CH4, and process it, you HAVE TO end up with some form of Carbon in addition to the water vapor. This form of Carbon is most likely either Carbon dioxide, Carbon monoxide, or some form of semi-oxidized hydrocarbon, e.g. CHOx.

I have communicate with Plug Power on a number of occassions, asking them to explain these seeming inconsistencies. All they would tell me is that they are not about to share their "trade secrets" with me! Well, Helllllooooooo!

The ONLY real, clean, environmentally superior use I am familiar with for fuel cells is to utilize the fuel cell to GENERATE hydrogen using OTHERWISE WASTED ENERGY, such as when you normally convert kinetic energy (the energy contained in a moving object, e.g. an automobile or truck) into waste heat (the heat generated by the friction between the vehicles' brake pads and drums or disks.

A fuel cell could, theoretically, utilize this "waste" energy to generate power to separate water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. Then these two gases could be recombined by the fuel cell to create electricity, which would run an electric motor to help power the vehicle.

This is how the "hybrid cars" function, only they use a battery for the storage medium rather than a fuel cell, and the electricity stored in the batteries comes from a generator, a.k.a. the electric motor running backwards. The fuel cell could allegedly convert the energy from kinetic to potential energy and back to power more efficiently and cleanly than the electric motor/ generator/battery system.

But to claim that these stationary units are some kind of wonder fuel seems, to me at least, like much ado about nothing.

Further comments on the article:

I've been told by dealers in small hydroelectric generating equipment that one should figure "only" 50% efficiency for small systems, implying at least that large hydroelectric plants are higher. At 40% efficiency, these fuel cells do not "match even the best power plants on the grid".

Obviously, if the fuel cell manufacturers figure out a way to utilize waste heat (and that seems quite easy to me, at least in the wintertime), then their claim to be as efficient as "the best power plants on the grid" will be at least impressive enough to bear investigation. On the other hand, to say that "Power plants can't do anything with that heat; it just warms up the Hudson River or whatever happens to be nearby." is patently ridiculous. Do some research.

The article points out that "these plants still have to get that power to your house, and so suffer the attendant transmission losses." This is very true, and is one of the reasons I am skeptical of claims made about the efficiency of electric cars. But the article seems to be ignoring the costs of delivering the fuel to the fuel cells. I can't imagine that it is as efficient to deliver, for instance, propane, to your home than it is to deliver electricity. After all, electricity is delivered through a wire; the propane has to be brought by truck, a very inefficient delivery system indeed. Natural gas would be more efficient than a truck for delivering the fuel cell fuel, but hey--if I had natural gas, I would be happy to burn it in my furnace, forget the fuel cell!

The article claims that the fuel cell creates" power with none of the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, unburned hydrocarbons and particulates that are spewed by conventional generating plants" I submit that the cleanliness of the fuel cell will be at least in part a function of how clean the fuel it burns is. If there is sulphur in the natural gas, for instance, there will be sulphur in the exhaust of the fuel cell.

The article claims that the fuel cell will "also produce a lot less CO2 than your home furnace" especially "if you heat with oil or propane". Sorry, but make that ONLY if you heat with oil or propane, and only if you do not use propane for your fuel cell's fuel supply. The fuel cell will produce just as much carbon as your conventional gas fired heater as long as you use the same gas. Again, the carbon has to go somewhere; the fuel cell technology at this point does not change carbon into gold.

Next question: the article claims that, should the cost of the fuel cell system drop to the $4000 range, then a typical power customer woud realize a 20% savings in electricity cost. I would like to see what figures are used to make that claim. For instance, how much does the customer pay for natural gas (assuming he can even GET natural gas) How much does he pay for Propane, if he can't get natural gas? How much does he have to pay for a kwh of electricity from the grid?

It is probably true that in SOME cases, a person could realize a savings on his power bill. But I'd need to see those prices before making a judgement.

Flash: I just whipped out my calculator. A gallon of propane contains approximately 92,000 BTU's This translates to approximately 27 kilowatt hours of power. But if the propane is processed at a 40% rate of efficiency, it only equates to 10.8 kilowatt hours. Where I live, one can buy 10.8 kilowatt hours of power from Pacific Power and Light for 60cents. A gallon of propane costs 99 cents. So, as you can see, the cost for the power generated from this fuel cell would cost about 67% more than the equivalent cost of grid power.

Where this system DOES show promise, in my opinion, is for the person who would like to live far beyond the existing power lines. The cost of extending power lines is currently extremely expensive, and here in Oregon at least, rising rapidly. In addition, also here in Oregon, the PUC is allowing the power companies to discontinue their former practice of granting a new customer the first four hundred plus feet of power line, a transformer, and all the fittings to that point FOR FREE. Now, the power company grants you NOTHING free except the LAST 100 FEET OF LINE.

I hope someone can please correct me if I'm wrong; indeed, I hope I am wrong. But since Plug Power seems unwilling or unable to edify me, I suspect I am right.

Meanwhile, I'm going to revisit some land I was looking at a couple of years ago, which I didn't purchase because of their remoteness from the power lines. I am seeing it now from a very different perspective!

-- jumpoff joe a.k.a. Al K. Lloyd (jumpoff@ekoweb.net), January 27, 2000.

Hi Joe:

Good points.

Fuel cell technological development has been like the computer chip. The current density (watt output) has been doubling every 18/mo.

Internal combustion engines achieve 15-30% efficiency. When you burn natural gas to produce heating directly, or to produce electricity at the power plant, conversion to work(watts) will have a loss of efficiency. New gas heaters are very efficient (85%) at producing heat but not electricity. You are right about the capturing of heat from a fuel cell to achieve the advertised efficiencies. Without heat, efficiency drops to 40- 50% if only counting electricity. However, this is far better than a power plant. The gas is not combusted to heat to steam to mechanical energy to electricity. It is directly converted to electricity by a chemical process. Fewer changes of the energy form means less loss.

Any gas other than hydrogen that is used in a fuel cell must pass through a reformer that strips off the hydrogen atoms. Again you are right, the carbon does become CO2, but only CO2 due to the hydrogen being H2. When it goes through oxidation, it always with 2 electrons/2 protons.

Any contaminants in the fuel will "kill" the catalyst. So the removal of contaminants tends to reduce any alternate waste products.

There is an exception. Caustic and phosphoric acid electrolyte cells and ceramic oxide cells operate at such high temps. they can utilize multiple types of fuels (landfill gas) and if the heat is included achieve 85-90% efficiencies.

Due to the nature of the chemical process, fuel cells still achieve substantial reductions in CO2 for the electricity produced versus combustion.

Electricity delivery is often interrupted. Gas delivery rarely. The gas does not lose energy content if delivered by pipe a thousand miles away due to resistance as electricity does in a wire. One can argue either way.

There is another advantage. Hydrogen based fuel cells do have 100% conversion of the hydrogen to electricity. If not converted to electricity in the first pass, you recirculate. No CO2 is produced in the process, so the H2 does not degrade or become contaminated. You can use solar cells to create H2 during the day, store it and then convert it to electricity at night. In essence creating a gigantic battery larger than anything that could be built. This way you end up with a "clean" power source, straight use solar electricity during the day with extra creating H2, H2 conversion at night. It does work.

The types of fuel cells that are available now, would be equivalent to a 486 chip. The Pentiums have been designed, just not available yet. That is why I say it will take 10-15 years to see the real impact of fuel cells.

-- Surrounded (hiding@thefirststate.com), January 28, 2000.


Did you catch my thread on Sivler/Soros/Gates/Buffet and fuel cells?

Is silver the key here?

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), January 28, 2000.

Anyone investing in PlugPower or any other fuel cell companies?

-- quielty (quietly@preparing.com), January 28, 2000.

Platinum and ruthenium are the metals that will be most impacted by fuel use.

Plug Power is a good long term play. DTE and MKTY both own large stakes in Plug Power. Both are too shaky financialy and too diversified at this point to be considered good investments. It is your call. Plug is more of a "pure" play on fuel cells. Platinum production may be worth looking at. Keep in mind, everything is 10 years out and consolidation/mergers will be occuring.

-- Surrounded (hiding@thefirststate.com), January 28, 2000.

All the nay-sayers and sceptics concerning the fuel cell revolution are nothing new. I'm absolutely positive that as Orville or Wilbur flew over the heads of some "bumpkins" you could hear their critical refrains such as "Gosh look. They use wood and linen for wings." And just think it only has twelve horsepower" "It can carry only one person?" "This will be a passing fad"! There were also those who predicted huge fleets of aircraft flying non stop from New York to Paris by the 20's. Reality was somewhere in the middle. The more things change the more they stay the same. Neither over-lofty goals or pessimism will have any impact, only getting down to reality and putting fuel cells into everyday use with lots of hard work and research will work.

-- Larry Elliott (larry@energyoutfitters.com), January 28, 2000.

Where is Paula Chow Babe?

-- this (is@her.thing), January 28, 2000.

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