Texaco, Shell, SoCal Gas Invest in Fuel Cell Systems
Texaco, Shell and Southern California Gas are moving from
opposite ends of the gas business to converge on the developing
market for distributed generation powered by fuel cells.
Texaco announced Tuesday it is putting its expertise in
gasification technology to work on the promising fuel cell business
as part of its drive to broaden its portfolio of energy
opportunities. The new Texaco Energy Systems Inc. will participate
in the "California Fuel Cell Partnership - Driving for the Future,"
a unique collaboration of industry and the State of California that
will test fuel cell vehicles on California highways.
Shell, which previously launched its entry in the field, Shell
Hydrogen, also is participating in the California partnership,
focusing on its patented process for converting liquid fuels into
And also making an announcement yesterday, SoCal Gas, the
nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, said it will
invest $7.5 million in residential fuel cell developer, Plug Power.
"Fuel cells represent a promising technology to bring the
benefits of distributed generation to the homeowner," said Lee
Stewart, president of SoCalGas' Energy Transportation Services.
Plug Power, with headquarters in Latham, MI, is a privately held
company whose investors include: DTE Energy Co., the parent of
Detroit Edison, Mechanical Technology Inc., and General Electric.
Since June of 1998, Plug Power has operated the world's first
fuel cell-powered home with a system designed to provide the
average-sized house with its total electricity needs, independent
of the electric utility grid. Initial market launch of this
7-kilowatt system is planned for 2001, with distribution planned in
the United States and overseas with General Electric, through GE
Fuel Cell Systems.
The size of a dishwasher, residential fuel cells convert the
energy of a fuel, such as natural gas, into useable electricity.
Unlike traditional combustion technology power plants that emit
elements causing smog and acid rain, fuel cells generate
electricity through an electrochemical process which produces no
Furthermore, a significant percentage of heat produced by fuel
cells can be captured and used to provide heating and hot water for
the home. This nearly doubles a fuel cell's efficiency.
Texaco is coming at the business from another direction. "We
plan to apply our expertise in fuels and processing to develop fuel
cell technology solutions that advance the commercial viability of
this new source of energy and build Texaco's technology-based
businesses," said William M. Wicker, Texaco senior vice
president. "The California Fuel Cell Partnership will afford
practical experience in understanding infrastructure needs and
motivate collaborative research on fuel conversion technology."
Converting a broad range of readily available hydrocarbon fuels
into hydrogen is a necessary step in the commercial development of
an efficient and feasible fuel cell energy system.
The California Fuel Cell Partnership provides on-the-road
experience in the transportation market segment. The partnership
plans to place about 40 fuel cell passenger cars and 25 fuel cell
buses on California roads between 2000 and 2003. Ford and
DaimlerChrysler will initially provide five fuel cell passenger
cars each by 2001 and a total of 30 passenger cars throughout the
project. The Partnership will work with California transit agencies
for testing the buses.