Interesting story in the Boston Globe about Westwood, Mass.-based Acumentrics, a maker of solid-oxide fuel cells. The article states the the company is working with Italian heating products firm Merloni TermoSanitari to develop a commercial household version of its fuel cell, which would hit the European market by 2010 and cost around $5,200.
Solid oxide fuel cells run much hotter than the PEM-based cells that companies such as Ballard Power have developed. This makes SOFCs a poor option for transportation, but great for fixed applications where a relatively clean fuel like natural gas can be used on site — i.e. someone’s basement — to produce electricity, heat and hot water. The company’s CEO is quoted as saying he expects the product to be certified for a 10-year lifespan and that the payback from energy savings in Europe, where energy prices are quite higher, will be about three years. Cracking the North American market will be harder, but the company remains hopeful, citing the fact it has in recent years increased the fuel cell’s output 120-fold, cut costs 90 per cent and reduced the size by 80 per cent.
Acumentrics acquired last year the assets of Fuel Cell Technologies Ltd. in Kingston, Ontario, which became Acumentrics Canada Ltd. and is focused on R&D for the company. That office is working on the use of ammonia and paint fumes as a fuel for the Acumentrics fuel cell.
Of course, Acumentrics isn’t the only player in this game. The secretive Bloom Energy, a well-funded venture backed by Kleiner Perkins, is also pursuing the SOFC market with a technology first developed for the NASA Mars program. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Bloom has 200 employees and is ramping up fast. It claims to be twice as efficient and have 100 per cent less emissions than conventional energy generation technologies. Curious.
Unlike fuel cells for cars, one can clearly see a path of commercialization for SOFC systems and their eventual use in homes.