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New Fuel Cell System at U.S. Army Base Adds to NREL's Data-Collection Efforts

January 16, 2012

The Department of Defense (DOD) recently flipped the switch on an innovative fuel cell system that will provide emergency backup power at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The new four-stack fuel cell system is one of the first of 18 systems to be installed and operated at eight U.S. military bases thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding signed in July 2010 by Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and then Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III.

In support of this interagency partnership, the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program is funding the incremental cost of the fuel cell systems and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for collecting and analyzing the real-world performance data.

“The new fuel cell system at Aberdeen Proving Ground is part of an ongoing data-collection effort that includes nearly 800 systems in operation as of June 2011 in backup power, combined heat and power, and material-handling applications at DOD and other facilities across the nation,” said NREL’s Jennifer Kurtz. “We’re gathering and analyzing a variety of metrics, with a focus on performance, reliability, ease-of-use, maintenance, run time, and safety.”

“So far, we’ve performed detailed analyses on 35 of these systems and have accumulated nearly 500 operation hours, with a maximum demonstrated continuous run time of 29 hours on at least one system,” Kurtz added. “Our results to date demonstrate highly reliable operation—the systems we’ve analyzed have started successfully 99.9% of the time.”

NREL’s comprehensive technology validation efforts help the development and end-user communities understand the state of the technology, identify areas for continued improvement, and provide data metrics highlighting the value proposition for using fuel cells in select early market applications.

Why fuel cells? Compared with batteries, fuel cells are a reliable source of backup power because they offer long continuous run times and greater durability in harsh outdoor environments, which makes them ideal power sources for Defense Department applications. Unlike traditional electricity generators used for backup power, fuel cells use no petroleum, are quieter, and produce fewer pollutants and emissions. Fuel cells also typically require less maintenance than either batteries or traditional generators, and can easily be monitored remotely to reduce maintenance time.

—Julia Thomas