Computerworld | Feb 16, 2016 12:55 PM PT
The fuel cell only needs sunshine and seawater to produce thousands of watts of electricity.
Boeing has announced that, after 16 months of development, it has delivered a “reversible” fuel cell
for the U.S. Navy that stores energy from renewable sources and generates zero-emissions
“Hydrogen is created in our system by way of high temperature steam electrolysis. The power to
conduct high temperature steam electrolysis can come from renewable energy or excess power on a
utility or microgrid,” Boeing stated in an email reply to Computerworld.
The system uses a fuel cell stack technology manufactured by Sunfire – a Boeing supplier based
inesden, Germany. When power is required, the system operates as a solid oxide fuel cell, consuming the stored hydrogen to produce electricity. The SOFC system can scale to provide up to 400KW of power generation.
“The current system has an output of 50KW in fuel cell mode within a 20-ft container. Future units
will have about 200KW to 250KW of output power within a 20-ft container. The systems have modular
scalability that can be built in standard 20-ft or 40-ft containers, according to Boeing.
The current unit is being tested as part of a micro power grid at the Navy’s Engineering and
Expeditionary Warfare Center (EXWC) at Port Hueneme, Calif.
“This fuel cell solution is an exciting new technology providing our customers with a flexible,
affordable and environmentally progressive option for energy storage and power generation,” Lance
Towers, director of Boeing’s Advanced Technology Programs, said in a statement.
A fuel cell is a device that uses stored chemical energy (in this case, hydrogen) and converts it
into electricity. The SOFC device uses solar power to strip seawater of its hydrogen molecules
through high-temperature steam electrolysis. The hydrogen gas can then be stored and later used in
the fuel cell stack where it electrochemically reacts with oxygen in ambient air to produce electric
current, heat and water.
Omar Saadeh, a senior grid analyst at GTM Research, said the military is an enormous energy consumer
with a high demand for reliability with regard to mission critical systems; so it only makes sense
that they’d invest in a combination of on-site power generation and microgrid technologies.
“At forward operating bases, for example, deploying renewables not only enhances energy efficiency,
but more importantly, also reduces the logistical risk in transporting fuel over distant and often
hostile territory,” Saadah said in an email reply to Computerworld.
Microgrids are small-scale power infrastructures that operate autonomous from the centralized grid
run by utilities. According to a 2015 microgrid study by GTM Research, the military made up 35% of
U.S. operational microgrid capacity.
While solar power is often promoted as the resource of the future, natural gas-fired generation
accounts for 67% of the military’s domestic microgrid energy generation, Saadah said.
“This is due to its rapid dispatchability and reliability as a larger-scale power source,” he said.
“That being said, remote bases, which are smaller by nature, are deploying renewable and storage
combinations as economically viable solutions that to meet today’s energy needs.”
The SOFC manufacturers include Boeing in Huntington Beach, Calif. and Sunfire in Dresden, Germany.
The technology is unique in being able to both store energy and produce electricity in a single
system, making the technology “reversible,” Boeing said.
“The SOFC is a most promising technology for both remote islands and expeditionary applications,”
Michael Cruz, EXWC project manager, said in a published report. “Combined with a solar photovoltaic
array, a SOFC system generates electricity, potable water, and heat with only two inputs, sunshine