Background

In the FCH-JU 2010-1 call, a proposal “DEMCOPEM” was submitted for topic SP1-JTI-FCH.2010.3.5: Field demonstration of stationary fuel cell systems with Nedstack Fuel Cell Technology B.V. (NFCT) as coordinator. The focus of that proposal was on the demonstration of a 1 MWe combined heat and power PEM fuel cell generator (1 MW electrical power and 0,7 MW heat) integrated into a Remote Controlled Chlorine Production unit (RCCP). The latter is a small-scale chlorine production plant that was developed by AkzoNobel Industrial Chemicals B.V., together with partners Uhdenora and Uhde, as an environmentally friendly alternative for chlorine transportation and as an economic and environmental alternative for smaller plants based on the mercury electrolysis process.

This proposal was selected for funding, however, it was not possible to enter into a contract due to the slow market uptake of the RCCP units and the relatively low electricity prices in Europe.

NFCT and MTSA have built a 1 MWe PEM Power Plant without heat integration at Solvay near Antwerp which is operational since October 2011, as part of the Interreg program managed by WaterstofNet. While this is a successful demonstration of the technology at 1 MWe scale a series of potential improvements has been identified that would enhance system efficiency, system reliability and by that system uptime.

At the same time, the consortium sees clear opportunities in the market for large size (2 – 6 MW) CHP PEM fuel cell generators for improving the overall efficiency of existing chlorine production plants in countries outside Europe with relatively high electricity prices such as in many areas of China (up to two times higher and rising). Also the electricity shortage in certain periods of the year (rationing) is beneficial to the business case.

Why do we connect the PEM power plant to a chlor-alkali plant? When you produce chlor-alkali you also produce hydrogen. For many plants it is difficult to have a cost effective use for the hydrogen, often the hydrogen is vented. Electricity costs are the most important costs for a chlor-alkali plant and with the PEM Power Plant they can save up to 20% of the normal electricity consumption. The heat that is produced by the PEM Power Plant can be used to pre-heat the brine in the chlor-alkali plant resulting in an overall efficiency of the PEM power plant of > 85%.

Why do we demonstrate in China? Due to the high  electricity prices (up to 2 times higher than in Europe and rising) in most areas in China and the availability of waste hydrogen by many of the ca. 180 chlor-alkali plants in China makes the business case for a PPP much easier than in the EU. Also the common shortage of electricity supply in China in certain periods of the year also contributes positively to the business case via the contribution margin of additional chlor-alkali production in these periods. However, to create real interest for the PEM power plant in China, a successful demonstration in China is needed. After a successful demonstration 20-50 PEM power plant units of at least 2 MWe in the coming 5-8 years seems a realistic option for China with a clear upside potential up to 600 MWe installed capacity worldwide in the years after.

Why now? The Chinese government also requires strong measures from the chlor-alkali industry to become more “green” and energy saving programs are becoming more and more a license to operate. Furthermore, the chlor-alkali industry is rationalizing meaning a strong interest exists to reduce the costs. A Letter of Intent has been signed with the company that will be responsible for the demonstration site with the project partners involved in the demonstration.

Why did we choose for a 2MWe PEM power plant? The Balance of Plant (BoP) of a 2MWe PEM power plant is about 30% per MWh lower than a 1 MWe unit while the design is almost similar. Most importantly, it is a realistic and convincing scale for the chlor-alkali industry.

Why did we choose for PEM power plant and not one of the other Fuel Cell technologies? A chlorine electrolyser produces the highest grade of hydrogen so we can use the H2 directly from the chlor-alkali plant without any treatment to the hydrogen gas. Moreover, PEM Power Plants will be the technology with the biggest potential for reaching low investments per MW. The PEM technology will give over time, even when the hydrogen has a value, business potential.

Why did we choose this consortium? The participants: ANIC, MTSA, NFCT, JMFC have relevant experience in long life high efficient PEM power plant systems in hazardous environments like a chlor-alkali plant. The partners in DEMCOPEM-2MW have a combined expertise that covers all aspects of the demonstration project. The company responsible for the overall PEM Power Plant concept and the project management of the Delfzijl PEM 70 kW pilot power plant and the Solvay 1 MW PEM power plant (Nedstack Fuel Cell Technology) will be partner in the project. They will supply the stacks and the knowhow. The company responsible for the construction of both PEM Power Plants (MTSA) will be responsible for the project management and the building of the 2 MW PEM power generator. The producer of the membrane electrode assemblies (JMFC) is also a partner in the project. Support in the process monitoring is provided by research institute (Polimi) that is experienced in modelling, data analysis and process simulations.

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