Hydrogen Generates BUZZ in Power Generation

Companies target stationary power applications to prove their hydrogen technology and to build scale until infrastructure expands for mobility.

Deutz’s first hydrogen engine, the TCG 7.8 H2, is powering a generator that produces 170 kVA of electricity at a cogeneration plant.

The commercial-vehicle and off-highway sectors have high hopes for hydrogen-fueled propulsion systems. However, before hydrogen fuel cells and combustion engines power vehicles in large numbers, these power units are likely to make a bigger impact by staying put.

Deutz launched its first hydrogen engine, the TCG 7.8 H2, in August 2021 as a “next step” in its effort to provide carbon-neutral drive systems for off-highway applications. The drive, which reportedly meets all the eligibility criteria set by the European Union for zero CO2 emission engines, has passed initial tests on the test bench and is scheduled to enter full production in 2024.

Microsoft is evaluating how to leverage hydrogen fuel cells for backup power in its data centers at scale as part of its commitment to be carbon negative by 2030.
Data centers are a growing market for Rolls-Royce Power Systems as it develops complete MTU power generation solutions based on cellcentric’s fuel cell modules.

Due to infrastructure limitations, however, the engine likely will find more extensive use in rail and stationary applications rather than in heavy machinery on construction sites, at least in the near term. Generating a power output of 200 kW, the six-cylinder TCG 7.8 H2 is based on an existing engine design, said Dr. Markus Müller, chief technology officer of Deutz AG. “In principle, the engine is suitable for all current Deutz applications,” he said, “but due to the available infrastructure, it is likely to be used first in stationary equipment, generators and rail transport.”

Utility provider RheinEnergie is running the first pilot application of Deutz’s hydrogen engine in stationary equipment for power generation. The engine is powering a generator that produces 170 kilo-volt-ampere of electricity at RheinEnergie’s cogeneration plant in Cologne-Niehl, Germany.

“We are looking to trial this first system there and to work with the experts from Deutz to study the stationary operation of this engine in combination with the generator,” said Dr. Dieter Steinkamp, CEO of RheinEnergie. “This compact system is ideal for use as a decentralized source of energy for climate-compatible buildings and urban quarters, and perhaps also for use in places that are not yet connected to the electricity grid or heating network.”

The first test cycle, lasting around six months, will focus solely on generating power using the Deutz engine. The second phase will also utilize the waste heat from the system (cogeneration). The partners are investing a combined total of around €1.3 million in the operating trial at the Niehl plant.

Fuel-cell generators build scale cellcentric, the joint venture company established by Daimler Truck and Volvo Group, plans to install its hydrogen fuel cell modules in heavy-duty trucks later this year. To accelerate series production, the company is seeking the quick deployment of a large volume of fuel cells in another application: power generation.

Ballard is supplying a 1.5-MW ClearGen-II hydrogen fuel-cell power generator and Caterpillar is providing system integration, power electronics and controls for a demonstration project at a Microsoft data center.

Rolls-Royce Power Systems is developing complete MTU hydrogen fuel cell solutions based on cellcentric’s fuel cell modules to enable CO2-free generation of emergency power for data centers. Rolls-Royce, which claims to be a top-three global supplier of emergency gensets for data centers, has declared a goal of having over half of data centers supplied by emergency power from fuel cells “in the future.” Hydrogen technology development is taking place in Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ new “Power Lab” division.

Mobile power generators from Hyundai are based on the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) system used in its FCEVs.
Hyundai’s new HTWO brand supplied its proprietary fuel cell generator to Electric Touring Car Racing in 2021. The mobile 160-kW generator can fully charge two cars, each equipped with a 65-kWh battery, simultaneously in one hour.

“With Rolls-Royce, we have an important partner at our side with whom we want to achieve further economies of scale to help the technology achieve a breakthrough,” said Dr. Matthias Jurytko, CEO of cellcentric. “Our cooperation sends a clear signal to politicians and industry: both companies are convinced of the benefits of fuel cells and are working hard to commercialize them. The right framework conditions for this must therefore now be put in place. This applies in particular to the issue of infrastructure and thus the generation, storage and transport of hydrogen.”

Each fuel-cell module is expected to eventually deliver a net power output of around 150 kW — sufficient to power about 10 homes, the companies note — and can be connected into scalable fuel-cell power plants with outputs in the megawatt range, capable of providing backup power for large data centers. Rolls-Royce commissioned a fuel-cell demonstrator in 2021 and plans to bring another demonstrator plant online in 2022, based on modules providing approximately 100 kW each. The first pilot plants with customers will be installed in 2023, with Rolls-Royce planning to launch standard production fuel-cell systems in 2025.

Large data centers that handle telecommunications and internet traffic are a key customer group, and the market is growing rapidly, according to Andreas Schell, CEO of Rolls-Royce Power Systems. “Electrical generators based on fuel cells represent the next leap forward in the energy transition, both for us and our customers,” Schell said. “That’s why we’re investing a three-digit million amount in R&D over the next few years. When they run on green hydrogen — hydrogen made using renewable energy sources — fuel cells are climate-neutral. For this reason, we also want to look into how green hydrogen can be produced cost-effectively in the quantities we need.”

Data centers also are the target for a Caterpillar demonstration project in collaboration with Ballard Power Systems and Microsoft. The three-year project, announced this past November, will demonstrate a power system incorporating large-format hydrogen fuel cells to produce backup power for Microsoft data centers. The project is supported and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the H2@Scale initiative and backed by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

Caterpillar is providing the overall system integration, power electronics and controls that form the central structure of the power solution, which will be fueled by “low-carbon-intensity hydrogen,” the company said. Ballard is supplying an advanced 1.5-MW ClearGen-II hydrogen fuel-cell power generator, and Microsoft is hosting the demonstration project at a company data center in Quincy, Washington. NREL is performing analyses on safety, techno-economics and greenhouse-gas impacts.

The 1.5-MW backup power delivery and control system will meet or exceed the expectations set by current diesel engine systems, while achieving a significantly reduced emissions profile, the companies said. “The results of this project will provide key insights into the capability of fuel cell systems to scale and serve multi-mega-watt data centers,” said Randy MacEwen, Ballard’s president and CEO. “The project will also explore the scalability of fuel cell systems powered by low-carbon-intensity hydrogen from cost and performance perspectives.”

From passenger cars to power generators

Fuel cells originally developed for passenger cars and since employed in commercial vehicles are also finding use in generators. Toyota and Hyundai both have adapted their fuel-cell propulsion systems for use in stationary applications.

Toyota has adapted its fuel cell system installed in the Mirai FCEV to create stationary fuel-cell (FC) generators that have been in operation in plants the past couple years.

Toyota has adapted its fuel-cell system installed in the Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) to create stationary fuel-cell generators that have been in operation for the past couple years. For example, the car maker began verification tests of an FC generator using by-product hydrogen within the Tokuyama factory grounds in Shunan City in 2020. The tests were scheduled to continue until the end of March 2022.

By using components from the Mirai FC system, such as the FC stack, power control unit (PCU), secondary battery and air compressor, Toyota seeks to produce a high-performance generator at a reasonable price. Development on the FC generator was carried out jointly by Toyota and Toyota Energy Solutions.

The FC generator used at the Tokuyama factory is based on a previous model with a rated output of 100 kW that had undergone verification tests at Toyota’s Honsha Plant grounds since September 2019. The rated output has been changed to 50 kW and other enhancements have been made, such as adjusting the component layout to improve maintenance. The companies have been testing the use of hydrogen generated as a byproduct in the manufacture of sodium hydroxide by Tokuyama, using the chloralkali process as fuel for the FC generator.

Toyota has stated a goal of power-generation efficiency (transmission end) of 50% or more. The company is verifying and evaluating the unit’s energy efficiency — the amount of electricity generated per unit of hydrogen — the stability of the generated output, durability, and ease of maintenance of the generator. Toyota plans to expand its FC generator output lineup while continuing to enhance efficiency and durability, making it more compact and reducing costs.

Similarly, in 2020, Hyundai began shipping hydrogen FC systems based on the one used in its Nexo fuel-cell SUV to Europe for use by non-automotive companies, including Swiss hydrogen-solution firm GRZ Technologies. GRZ reportedly has technology capable of storing about five to ten times more hydrogen than before, with a pressure lower than 30 bar (435 psi) compared to typical hydrogen storage tanks at 200 to 500 bar (2,900 to 7,250 psi). Using Hyundai’s fuel-cell system, the company plans to produce a stationary power supply system to be used for building electricity at peak times.

“Hyundai’s fuel cell systems offer both diverse applicability and scalability well beyond zero-emissions vehicles,” said Saehoon Kim, senior VP and head of Fuel Cell Center at Hyundai Motor Group. “By leveraging our system, our partners in mobility, infrastructure and energy can further advance the potential for a comprehensive hydrogen ecosystem.”

In 2021 Hyundai also signed a memorandum of understanding with Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems to develop a hydrogen FC package dedicated for mobile power generators and alternative maritime power (AMP) supply solutions. The mobile-generation concept also is based on Hyundai’s polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) system used in its FCEVs.

As part of its “Fuel Cell Vision 2030” roadmap plan, Hyundai Motor Group is aiming for a 700,000-unit-per-year production capacity of fuel cell systems for vehicles as well as other sectors such as vessels, rail cars, drones and power generators by the end of this decade.