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Panasonic reduces size and price of “Ene-Farm” home fuel cell

The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) and accompanying hot water unit
The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) and accompanying hot water unit
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The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) and accompanying hot water unit
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The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) and accompanying hot water unit
The fuel cell's remote control displays electricity generation and CO2 emissions data on a 4.3-inch color screen
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The fuel cell's remote control displays electricity generation and CO2 emissions data on a 4.3-inch color screen
The new Ene-Farm fuel cell requires an installation depth of 750 mm, compared to the 900 mm needed for the current model
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The new Ene-Farm fuel cell requires an installation depth of 750 mm, compared to the 900 mm needed for the current model
The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) alongside the current model
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The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) alongside the current model
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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).

The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) alongside the current model
The new Ene-Farm home fuel cell (left) alongside the current model

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.

The fuel cell's remote control displays electricity generation and CO2 emissions data on a 4.3-inch color screen
The fuel cell's remote control displays electricity generation and CO2 emissions data on a 4.3-inch color screen

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.

Source: Panasonic

20 comments
Leonard Foster Jr
How did the price of these units skyrocket???
MD
Chemical reaction, Oxygen meets hydrogen, for the reaction to occur the reaction must occur above the critical reaction temperature.... In the wider world the same reaction is called combustion... As the reaction is exothermic it becomes self-sustaining.... So really a fuel cell is burning the hydrogen, just that the reaction occurs without any "flame" (just a 700 degree ceramic fuel cell) and the potential across the reaction is harvested as electicity.... Combustion IS a chemical reaction.
Buzz Knapp-Fisher
Fuel cell with de-centralist renewable energy would finish off big toxic control. We should not stand a system run by the rich oil energy men. I am making my own clean energy. One day we all will when this day arrives big toxic will finally lay to rest. Are you interested getting off toxic too?
Jonathan Jenkins
60,000 hours is just under 7 years if I have got my maths right. How much does it cost to replace the "electrolyte membrane" after that time?
coryatjohn
750 W? That's impossibly low for any user in the US. That wouldn't even run our fish tanks, much less provide anything but emergency power for a few light bulbs. Until these things can produce 10 kW's for $20k, they will be nothing more than a curiosity.
Captain Obvious
At $22K, this will have a very long payback period, maybe never. Looks like they got the basic engineering working, high efficiency and long life. Now they need to get the cost down. That will take some basic R&D. Buzz, whether I generate electricity with gas or the power company does, that doesn't burn any oil. Actually, fuel cells aren't "green" at all, they are just a little more efficient at using gas. It's greener if I use electricity generated by wind, solar, hydro and even nuclear.
Slowburn
An ICE trigeneration plant will pay for its self and more.
Gary Richardson
A nursery may benefit from piping the CO2 directly to it's starter plants for rapid growth. Perhaps injected into the soil along with safety features (isolation curtains with valved venting) introduced to prevent human asphyxiation.
Arf
They had me going until I read the max output is 750 W. So it couldn't function as a whole house replacement. Could maybe run a decent refrigerator and some lights.
Stephen N Russell
Can't we produce in the US & lower costs. For homes, schools, hotels, convt centers, malls etc. Huge demand for.