By relying on a chemical reaction rather than combustion, fuel cells like the Bloom Energy Server are a more environmentally friendly source of electricity than fossil fuel burning power plants – they’re also easier to fit on a residential or commercial block. Unfortunately, their price is still prohibitively expensive for most people. But things are slowly improving as evidenced by Panasonic’s latest “Ene-Farm” home fuel cell, which was jointly developed with Tokyo Gas. Later this year, the unit will be sold in Japan by Tokyo Gas for 1,995,000 yen (approx. US$22,320).
The latest model is an update of the existing Ene-Farm fuel cell that first went on general sale in Japan in May 2009. Since then, around 21,000 units have been sold throughout the country at a retail price (not including installation) of 2,761,500 yen (approx. US$30,700). With the aim of contributing to cutting peak electrical demands, Panasonic claims the unit can cut primary energy consumption by around 37 percent and CO2 emissions by roughly 49 percent for users whose electricity is supplied from a thermal power station and who use gas for hot water.
The fuel cell generates electricity by extracting hydrogen from the city gas supply using a fuel processor and reacting it with oxygen in the atmosphere. The heat that is generated as a byproduct of the chemical reaction is also used to supply hot water. While the existing model has the backup heat source and hot water unit built in, the new model separates them. This, along with a reduction in the number of components, reduces the unit’s required installation depth from 900 mm (35.4 in) to 750 mm (29.5 in).
While the current model outputs 250 – 750 W, the new model outputs 200 – 750 W, which Panasonic points out makes it a better fit for users with minimal power needs. Overall efficiency has also been improved, up from 90 percent on the previous model to 95 percent (Low Heating Value) on the new. Panasonic says this makes it the world’s most efficient fuel cell and was achieved by increasing the unit’s waste heat recovery and improving the insulation of the heat collection circuits.
Additionally, improvements to the durability of the unit’s electrolyte membrane give it an operating life of 60,000 hours, which is 20 percent longer than its predecessor.
A new remote control with a 4.3-inch color display is also included with the new model. Designed to be installed in the kitchen or bathroom, the remote displays electricity generation and CO2 emissions data not only for the fuel cell, but also for any solar panels installed in the home.
Panasonic appears to have high hopes for its fuel cell, with the company set to complete a production setup in the 2013 financial year that will boost production capacity 50 percent to more than 15,000 units per year.
The new model Ene-Farm home fuel cell will be available in Japan from April 1, 2013.