Enbridge said Tuesday that it plans to deploy 1.2 MW hybrid fuel cell/turbine power plants on its Ontario gas distribution system to capture some of the energy lost when gas enters lower pressure distribution lines and to convert that into usable energy to reheat gas supply to acceptable temperatures.
The project, which will use FuelCell Energy Inc.'s multimegawatt Direct FuelCell-Energy Recovery Generation (DFC-ERG) system, is in the preliminary stages of deployment but could be expanded to distribution systems across the United States. The new product combines a 1.2 MW fuel cell power plant with a 1 MW unfired gas expansion turbine. It operates at natural gas pipeline letdown stations, generating 2.2 MW of ultra-clean electricity.
To transport gas across the continent, pipelines operate at high pressures and considerable energy must be injected to achieve the pressures required. This high pressure must be reduced when the gas enters lower pressure systems that deliver gas to homes and businesses. Currently, there is no commercial use made of the energy that is lost at that stage. Additionally, when pressure is reduced, the gas cools. To ensure reliable pipeline operations, the cooling must be offset by burning some gas in boilers, reheating the supply to an acceptable temperature.
With the new DFC-ERG system, high-pressure gas passes through a turbine, capturing some of the energy that was otherwise lost, and turns it into usable electricity. The integrated fuel cell also electrochemically converts some of the gas into low-impact, environmentally friendly electricity. Finally, heat normally generated by the fuel cell warms the gas to its proper distribution temperature, thus eliminating the need for a boiler (and its emissions). The combined system can achieve electrical efficiencies over 60% with low noise and virtually zero smog emissions.
"This first DFC-ERG will illustrate the benefits of DFC power plants in delivering unparalleled energy efficiency, which is extremely important in this climate of rising fuel prices," said FuelCell Energy CEO R. Daniel Brdar. "This system addresses a significant need, and opens new market opportunities for the company."
The hybrid power plant is expected to be commercially available in the third quarter of 2007. Enbridge's research has identified 40-60 MW of opportunities for the new system in just one of its operating areas. The North American market represents another 200-300 MW, consisting of the half dozen U.S. states currently seeking to add fuel cells' environmental attributes to their renewable portfolio standards (RPS), FuelCell Energy said.
Furthermore, the company anticipates connecting its fuel cell/turbine hybrids directly to the power grid. It noted that the state of Connecticut already offers a ready made contract path with its Project 100, and the province of Ontario is soon to release its Clean-Energy Standard Offer Program. Both initiatives are geared toward embedding ultra-clean generation sources to deliver electricity to the grid.
The pipeline pressure reducing stations also are inherently close to, or embedded within, urban centers where the demand for clean electricity is the greatest.
"This is a prime example of how high-efficiency, near-zero emission technologies can play a meaningful role in meeting clean air and climate change objectives," said Jim Schultz, senior vice president of Enbridge's New Ventures.
The first production unit includes the participation of other vendor partners including Cryostar SAS, a global leader in radial in-flow turbines and low-carbon energy solutions, and SatCon Power Systems Canada Ltd., a global leader of multi-megawatt, utility grade, power inverter solutions.
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