Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Toyota Adapts Hydrogen Fuel Cell for Stationary Power

Toyota wowed the automotive world last year when it introduced the first production-level hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle at the Tokyo Motor Show.  Since the unveiling, the Japanese automaker has been preparing Western markets to start taking shipments of the revolutionary vehicle next year.  In the meantime, Toyota is not sitting around waiting to see whether the car will be a commercial success or not - the company has taken its hydrogen fuel cell technology to the next level by adapting it for stationary use.

Out in Los Angeles, Toyota operates a six-building campus hosting a number of very important sales operations for the North American market.  The climate of Southern California is such that the facility experiences extreme power needs during peak summer months.  In order to compensate, the company built a 1.1 MW hydrogen fuel cell and installed it on the campus.  The result is a power cell that can produce up to half the power needed within the six buildings on any given day.  Toyota says that is enough energy to power 765 American homes.

The strength of the system is how easily it can be switched on and off to compensate for heavy loads.  It is an easy next step to automate the system so that it requires no manual control.  When load reaches a certain level, the power cell will automatically kick in to balance things out.  When consumption dips below peak load, the system would shut off.

Toyota has proven, at least in concept, that their hydrogen fuel cell has wider applications than just electric cars.  The company is now many strides ahead of the competition in developing reliable and powerful sources of electricity that do not use fossil fuels.  It will be exciting to see where this technology goes in the near future.

Greener by the Day

One of the criticisms against renewable energy sources is that none of them can provide the raw power of fossil fuels.  It is a valid criticism.  For example, there hasn't been a single wind farm ever built that can compete with a traditional coal or oil-fired power plant.  However, what Toyota has shown us is this: you can combine multiple technologies together to overcome the need for fossil fuels.  Indeed, we are becoming greener by the day.

Let's assume Toyota could combine solar thermal, wind, biomass and hydrogen fuel-cell technology for the power needs of a brand-new campus.  Making it work would mean the campus buildings could be completely powered without the need for connecting to the grid.  It could be that their fuel-cell technology is the missing piece that makes this all possible.

With the proper combination of sustainable energy sources, it is entirely possible that we are only a few years from powering an advanced data centre without the need for any external sources.  On a larger scale, we could adapt the technologies to power the homes and businesses of entire cities.  The possibilities are enough to let the imagination run wild.


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