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Texaco, Shell, SoCal Gas Invest in Fuel Cell Systems

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 hydrogen-rich gas.

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 harmful byproducts.

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.

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