The need for resilient, sustainable backup power technology is growing due to factors that include increasingly severe and frequent weather events, the expanding use of intermittent renewable resources and higher demand for electricity as the economy electrifies.

That was the message from Shelli Zargary and Jorge Castilla Aguilar of GenCell, who spoke during a Knowledge Hub session on the exhibit floor of POWERGEN International in Dallas on May 23.

GenCell’s process creates hydrogen on demand from anhydrous ammonia (NH3) at what it said is 10 times the efficiency of other solutions and without any outside electrical power. The fuel cell design includes no platinum and reduces the amount of noble metals in an effort to provide affordable, clean backup power for utilities, telecom, homeland security, healthcare, and other applications.

The two discussed technology related to hydrogen-to-power and ammonia-to-power applications, the latter of which is intended to replace diesel generators and offer a lower operating price point.

The presentation highlighted that hydrogen for electric power generation offers a number of benefits, including long-duration backup during climate-relate outages, an extended temperature range, immediate startup on demand, high reliability, and a long “shelf life” for seasonal storage. Hydrogen also is able to balance renewable and other dynamic control loads such as electrolyzes coming onto the grid, and can help achieve zero carbon targets.

To demonstrate the potential value, Margery and Aguilar offered a case study involving Mexico’s state power utility, Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) which has nearly 90 GW of installed power plant capacity.

The state-owned utility, Latin America’s largest, requires backup for its DC auxiliary system to support breakers, transformers and switches across multiple substations. In addition, it requires backup for its communications and controls network equipment which enables some 80,000 personnel to communicate across the company.

In 2018, two of GenCell’s hydrogen-to-power G5 products were deployed for extended testing and validation. The system was found to offer reliable redundancy for the substations by extending and ensuring the reliability of the distribution division’s electrical substation backup solution.

In a separate use case, GenCell deployed 46 alkaline fuel cells, hydrogen cylinders, as well as its Energy Bridge to ensure safe connection with the batteries, to support 130 VDC control panels and endusers across multiple CFE sites. It also deployed its NOC IoT Remote Management Software to ensure operational validation and execute alarms test procedures.

And it provided 20 GenCell units across multiple CFE sites for 48VDC SCADA data hubs and 12VDC radio communications support. It also provided eight units supporting 12VDC radio equipment for disaster recovery for high-risk hurricane-prone electricity stations.

The scope of work included design and engineering to meet CFE requirements, installation, technical training, maintenance and support, and hydrogen consulting services.

Key benefits realized to date include uninterrupted power and extended runtime, power security and compliance with IEC-61850 standards, substation automation, flexibility for dynamic voltage configuration changes for 130VDC or 48 VDC, and operational intelligence for smart grid interoperability. The hydrogen fuel source also results in a zero-emission profile that supports CFE’s decarbonization targets.

Future planned steps with the Mexican state utility include expanding the green hydrogen backup power network to include off-grid sites in remote rural locations, and hybrid micrograms in areas where electricity distribution is not economically justified. In addition, green ammonia fuel may be used as a primary source where no electricity is available, and to support development in rural parts of Mexico.

Margery and Aguilar ended their presentation by quoting Raul Gabriel Alvarez Guerrero, head of CFE’s substation maintenance office, who said that the GenCell systems represented “an important step” toward a more reliable power network based on hydrogen technology. The successful integration of GenCell’s systems into CFE’s power network and critical transmission infrastructure, he said, will “contribute to a more reliable, advanced and sustainable power network.”

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