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Power Technology

Boeing Installs World's Largest 'Reversible' Renewable Energy Storage System (computerworld.com) 120

Lucas123 writes: Boeing announced that it has installed a first-of-its-kind 50MW Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) system on a naval base in Port Hueneme, Calif. The fuel cell system, which can scale to 400KW, is unique in that it uses solar power to generate hydrogen gas from seawater, which it then stores until it releases the gas into a fuel cell stack to produce electricity, heat and water. Because the system can both store energy and produce electricity, Boeing is calling the fuel cell system "reversible." The Navy's Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center is testing the fuel cell system on a microgrid to determine its viability for use at both remote bases and during overseas military missions.
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Boeing Installs World's Largest 'Reversible' Renewable Energy Storage System

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2016 @04:22AM (#51492941)

    "The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) system, which can generate 50 kilowatts (KW) of power, is the largest of its kind and can use electricity from wind or solar power to generate hydrogen gas, which it then compresses and stores."

  • Sounds good... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jamstar7 ( 694492 )
    That is, if you're near a large supply of readily accessible water. Even with scavanging the water vapor off the fuel cells, there will be losses. And it's likely to use a lot of water to start up. Here in the desert, water is a BIG issue.

    50 kw per hour is 36 megawatts a month. Enough to power a small town. And this tech scales easily? It could be an answer for said small towns, a few 50-400kw plants should do them. I like decentralised energy generation. Less choke points. Less transmission inf
    • Re:Sounds good... (Score:4, Informative)

      by XaXXon ( 202882 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `noxxax'> on Friday February 12, 2016 @05:13AM (#51493045) Homepage

      50 kw per hour is 36 megawatts a month.

      I don't think that math means what you think it means. That means 36 MWh / month. 3600 KWh / month.

      If I leave on a space heater, that's 1.5KWh / h = 1080KHh / month. So 36 people could run their space heaters.

      A small town needs a power plant capable of 36MW. Not 36MHw / month.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Put another way, this is approximately big enough to power the laundry room for a small apartment complex, or approximately the worst-case total power for 1-2 households.

        • by dj245 ( 732906 )

          Put another way, this is approximately big enough to power the laundry room for a small apartment complex, or approximately the worst-case total power for 1-2 households.

          Nobody's household ever uses 25kW (50kW / 2). I could turn on every single appliance in my apartment, AC on full blast, PCs at full load, hairdrier's drying, and the dryer on high heat and I come up with much less than 10kW.

          The parent poster was correct when they estimated a 1500W heater. That's close the average household load of 1200-1800W, depending on the geographic location.

          • If you were right, nobody's household would need greater than 100-amp or so (240v) service, and that hasn't been true for ages.

            In my house, if the heating system (heat-pump based) activates its backup electric strip heaters, it can draw 10kW all by itself.

            If I turn on the oven and all my stovetop burners, that's another 10kW.

            We replaced our electric water heater (3-6kW) and clothes dryer (~5kW) with gas units; had we not done so, going over 25kW would have been easy. As it is, we're unlikely to exceed that

          • by mspohr ( 589790 )

            In my house, if the hot tub heater, electric dryer, and baseboard heaters are all on at once, that's 25 kW. And that only takes 100 amps of my 200 amp service. Electric car can take another 10 kW.
            This project is for the military who will pay big bucks for underperforming, inefficient kit.
            This is just the military-industrial complex sucking your tax dollars... business as usual.

          • My 1500 sq ft home had a 100 amp main breaker, it melted. Some months I would use over 3000 Kwhs.
        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          It's a test rig. It's small for that reason.
          Increase the area where the reaction happens, increase the inputs and you get a fuel cell with a larger output. Think of it as like having a larger battery only a fuel cell is a battery where you keep on feeding more things into it so that it does not go flat.
          • Not physically small though, it looks like two shipping containers in size. This isn't something that would make sense unless you were in a war zone.

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )
              Or remote areas where you don't want to have to keep on shipping in fuel for a generator.
              Of course these things are going to scale in a linear way (twice as big for twice the power) as distinct from thermal solutions (twice as big for better than twice the power) so there's going to be an upper limit where it is just not worth it.
              • This thing does not appear to replace generators, it still requires a power input to "charge", so it would require some kind of power production facility. It is more like a backup generator I guess. I wonder how it compares to batteries like the new Tesla wall mounted batteries.

                https://www.teslamotors.com/po... [teslamotors.com]

    • Re:Sounds good... (Score:5, Informative)

      by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @05:15AM (#51493053) Homepage
      That is, if you're near a large supply of readily accessible water.

      If you read TFS (not even TFA) you'll see that this has been built "on a naval base in Port Hueneme, Calif." Port Hueneme [wikipedia.org] is on the West Coast of California, right next to the Pacific Ocean. Is that a sufficient supply of water for you?
      • Yes, in general navy bases in towns called "Port " do tend to have access to water... Not a lot of naval bases in the middle of deserts!
        • http://militarybases.com/navy/ [militarybases.com]

          However, there are naval basis nowhere near (deep) water.

          • by rch7 ( 4086979 )

            You don't need deep water for some fuel cell :/ Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen, then combined again into the same water. It is closed circle. Much easier and cheaper than constantly shipping diesel fuel to remote locations.

            • This doesn't replace the generator, it is more of a UPS. You still need a power generation solution hooked to this device as water doesn't particularly like being split up.

              • by rch7 ( 4086979 )

                People were talking about some major water requirement in this thread as if it is some kind of fuel. Water is just part of the system that doesn't need much replacement.
                Yes you need power source, but it can be intermittent solar or wind. It is much more usable than UPS, specific energy, cost and ability to store energy for long term is better by orders of magnitude.

                • I am pretty sure that the leakage rate of Hydrogen far exceeds the current leakage on the worst battery in existence, but you are free to prove me wrong.

                  • by rch7 ( 4086979 )

                    You are free to image whatever you want if your emotions require it, but it is hard science and hydrogen is widely used for many decades, technology is more or less developed, and everything is already well proven long time ago, no need to invent a bicycle.

    • Re:Sounds good... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @06:44AM (#51493239) Homepage Journal

      "Kilowatts per hour" doesn't make any sense at all. Watts are already a rate - joules per second.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Kilowatts per hour" doesn't make any sense at all

        Maybe really fast construction of a power plant :)

      • "Kilowatts per hour" doesn't make any sense at all.

        Sure it does. It measures an increase in power generation -- for example, how quickly a cold plant can power up/shut down, or how quickly new power plants are being built. A solar photovoltaic plant would gain many kilowatts per hour from dawn to late morning, then a few more until midday, then it would start losing kilowatts per hour until at night it produces zero watts.

      • That's how you pay for electricity. I pay $.10 for using a kilowatt appliance for one hour. Or $.10 per Kwh. Says so right on my electric bill.
        • Are you being wilfully obtuse, trying to be funny, or are you just genuinely stupid?

          Hint: Per implies division. Division is not commutative. Hence the position of the "per" makes a difference.

    • Re:Sounds good... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @07:33AM (#51493357) Journal

      Here in the desert, water is a BIG issue.

      Not really. If it was, they'd stop the farmers growing Alfalfa in the California deserts, then exporting it to China. [bbc.com] The "BIG issue" is an utterly broken antiquated system of pre-1914 water rights. [latimes.com]

      • Re:Sounds good... (Score:5, Informative)

        by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @11:03AM (#51494155) Homepage

        Here in the desert, water is a BIG issue.

        Not really. If it was, they'd stop the farmers growing Alfalfa in the California deserts, then exporting it to China. [bbc.com] The "BIG issue" is an utterly broken antiquated system of pre-1914 water rights. [latimes.com]

        I just spent 2 weeks in the Imperial Valley in Fall 2015, and 2 more weeks in the last month. You can drive through there but you can't really appreciate how damaging that style of industrial farming is to the environment until you actually go there. They are basically farming in a dust bowl by using open canal irrigation. The pesticides and fertilizer drain into the Salton Sea, an accidentally-created manmade body of water, which is drying up. As it dries up, a lot of the salts and chemicals in the water turn into a very fine dust. I drove out to the Salton Sea itself on a windy day and it looked like something straight out of Fallout 3. I could see no difference between the landscape there now and a nuclear wasteland. It's an ecological disaster. I've been to industrial farm towns all over the USA and I've never seen industrial farming like that before. The fact that it is allowed to continue to exist in California, of all states, just boggles my mind. And I work in coal power plants.

        The refrain I heard often was "we grow xx% (double digit number) of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables!". I am not going to dispute the figures. It isn't hard to gain a huge chunk of the market if you have free/cheap water, 350 days of sun, and an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor, however. That is a rare set of circumstances, and there isn't a farmer anywhere in the US that can compete against that.

        • you have free/cheap water, 350 days of sun, and an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor, however. That is a rare set of circumstances, and there isn't a farmer anywhere in the US that can compete against that.

          The cheap immigrant labor is happy to travel to any of the lower 48 states, where steady work is available.

          And what's the alternative? Farming is an environmental catch-22... Areas that have ample water/rain have densely packed plants an animals, which you have to destroy to clear farmland (environm

    • That is, if you're near a large supply of readily accessible water.

      The use case for this system is where you need to desalinate seawater. If you take that out of the need list, this system makes zero sense. If you have saltwater nearby only, and no local power source, and need potable water, this could be used.

    • > That is, if you're near a large supply of readily accessible water. Even with scavanging the water vapor off the fuel cells, there will be losses. And it's likely to use a lot of water to start up. Here in the desert, water is a BIG issue.

      I should think that saline, alkaline, brackish or waste water might work OK. They are, after all, using sea water in this installation (assuming that it works). And it's not clear that they need a lot of water.

      One thing though about using it on military missions. T

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        We were wondering if you could put off the attack you seem to be preparing for a week or two until the weather has improved and we are able to recharge our Hydrogen supplies.

        The word "tank" doesn't just mean a thing on treads with a gun :)

    • Re:Sounds good... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @12:20PM (#51494765)
      The Gibbs free energy [wikipedia.org] of water is -237.14 kJ/mole, or (at 55.6 moles/liter) 13.184 MJ/liter, or (in electrical terms) 3662 kWh per ton of water. That's how much energy you gain combining hydrogen and oxygen to form water (H2 and O2 have a Gibbs free energy of zero). So about a third the energy density of gasoline (negative energy density actually, since the end product is water).

      An average U.S. household uses about 13 MWh/yr, so if were to all come from hydrogen and oxygen, they would form about 3550 liters of water in a year, just under 10 liters a day. Or put another way, a 1000 MW version of this would generate about 273 tons of water per hour. Divide by the efficiency to get how many tons of water are needed to separate into hydrogen and oxygen.

      This actually gets to another off-topic synergy I've been wondering about. Evaporative distillation takes more energy to desalinate seawater than reverse osmosis. So most of the solutions thus far have been to build big reverse osmosis plants. But that's purely an energy analysis. It ignores the cost of the energy. Evaporative distillation relies almost entirely on thermal energy. Well, at power generation plants, heat is considered a waste product - it's free energy.

      For places where water is in short supply like California, why isn't every power plant being built near the sea, where they can use seawater for cooling? It'll have to be a two-stage cooling circuit with a heat exchanger to prevent corrosion from affecting power generation systems. But that's already what's used in nuclear plants so there's no new engineering which needs to be developed there. Do this and 1/3rd the energy from burning coal, oil, or nuclear can go into generating electricity. The remaining 2/3rds of the energy can go into desalinating seawater.

      The thermal energy cost to desalinate [wikipedia.org] is on the order of 80 kWh/ton. Or 288 MJ/ton. So your 1000 MWe power plant (which is generating about 2000 MW of thermal energy) has enough thermal energy to desalinate seawater to produce 3.5 tons of fresh water per second.
      • For places where water is in short supply like California, why isn't every power plant being built near the sea, where they can use seawater for cooling?
        Because this is not a game of "Sim City"?

        I would bet over half the power plants in California are over 50 years old. At that time "desalination" and "water shortage" was science fiction, bad science fiction. Just like man made artificial global warming.

        • There's also the lessons of Fukushima Daiichi. Don't build close to water in earthquake zones unless you want to glow in the dark.
      • "For places where water is in short supply like California, why isn't every power plant being built near the sea, where they can use seawater for cooling? It'll have to be a two-stage cooling circuit with a heat exchanger to prevent corrosion from affecting power generation systems. But that's already what's used in nuclear plants so there's no new engineering which needs to be developed there. Do this and 1/3rd the energy from burning coal, oil, or nuclear can go into generating electricity. The remaining

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        My understanding is that saltwater is not used because of its corrosive nature.

    • by lhowaf ( 3348065 )
      I don't think the Navy conducts a lot of operations in the desert.
    • by captjc ( 453680 )

      That is, if you're near a large supply of readily accessible water. Even with scavanging the water vapor off the fuel cells, there will be losses. And it's likely to use a lot of water to start up. Here in the desert, water is a BIG issue.

      And solar power is probably unfeasible for places near the poles where they experience polar nights which can last for an entire month. That doesn't mean that solar power is a bad idea that needs to be abandoned. It is possible and essential to have many different forms of power generation each with various strengths and weaknesses.

    • 50 kw per hour is 36 megawatts a month.

      Where is the "-9999 Stupid idiot" Mod when I need one?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But call me old-fashioned.

    Giving correct numbers is such a thing of the past those days... All matters is the headline, not the actual facts.

    Actually 50 MW would have made the whole thing really interesting... 50 KW makes it an anecdote.

    • by Barny ( 103770 )

      Aww, give em a chance, it was only out by three orders of magnitude.

      • Or he just slipped by one letter on a QWERTY/QWERTZ keyboard: from k to M, but what irritates me is: how could his fat finger also hit the SHIFT key? What keyboard layout is he using?

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      It's a fuel cell. Scaling them up is just a matter of making them bigger and feeding more stuff into them.
      When space travel was in the news more often a ten year old could have told you that.
  • The initial test is only 50 kilowatts (not megawatts), with the ability to scale it up to 400kw. Would be interested to know how long it takes to build up the gas reserve for that amount of power and how quick it can provide it.
  • Iz realy noboddy proofeadng submisions on thiz saite?

  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) <.ln.tensmx. .ta. .tsiruotrekcah.> on Friday February 12, 2016 @05:26AM (#51493079)

    Reversible energy storage systems have been around for a while. Pumped water storage scales to GW levels with 70% efficiency, but depend on specific geography.
    Another scheme is to use an electric locomotive to push rail cars up a hill [snl.com], and use motor braking on the downhill run to extract the energy again.

    Storage in hydrogen is less efficient: electrolysis is 70% efficient [electrochemsci.org], a fuel cell is 40-60% [wikipedia.org], so chain efficiency is around 35%. The advantage is it's scalable and can be made portable (which is why the DOD is interested).

    • ...and doesn't require specific large-scale geography to implement.

      This doesn't have to get a whole lot more efficient before it could become profitable. If you look at the wholesale electricity market in the UK, the peak cost of electricity is more than double the minimum cost over a week. So something that can store electricity at minimum cost and sell it back into the grid at peak cost only needs to be 50% efficient to be making money. Of course, that's ignoring the capital cost, but still, this is no

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Something merely being profitable is not enough to encourage people to do it, but rather it has to be more profitable in a given time window than other ways to turn a profit given a suitable risk profile.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        That's purely a financial construct designed to discourage use due to insufficient capacity.
    • Of course 70% is optimal electrolysis efficiency, not average. Also, the article says they compress the hydrogen for storage, so that is another efficiency hit in the system.
    • Pumped water storage has an efficiency around 81% ... since about 100 years.
      You pump it up at 90% or above efficiency, it comes down and hits a turbine at 90% or above efficiency, worst case over all scenario is 0,9*0,9=0,81 ...

  • http://www.navy.mil/submit/dis... [navy.mil]

    Which seems a more fitting description for s puny 50kW installation.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Speaking of this sort of thing what happened to Lockheed compact fusion reactor?

    It was announced to have a model within a year and a prototype running within five years.

    That was three years ago? So shouldn't we hear something?

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday February 12, 2016 @08:52AM (#51493541)

    117 words. 2 mistakes.
    If you can't do your job as an editor, don't post. I'd prefer to get a post a day later than have to sit there staring at why 50MW may scale to 400kW and figure out what "stores until power" is supposed to mean.

  • This is really interesting technology, but the article is a little light on the details.

    What is the efficiency of this system?
    What is was the price?
    Is the water coming out of the system potable?
    What are the "Unused Gases" coming out of the system?
    Where does the salt from the salt water go?
    • What is the efficiency of this system?
      Who cares?

      Seriously ... why is /. full with idiotic questions like this?

      Easy standpoint: if I get "free energy" out of my plug in the wall, I don't care if it was produced by slime mold at an efficiency of 0.001% or by a solar cell with 10% efficiency or by a solar cell with 40% efficiency or a nuclear reactor by 41% efficiency or a combined cycle gas plant by 60% efficiency.

      The only thing relevant for a layman like you is: cost per kWh/kW. And if you want to buy such a

  • As I recall compressing and storing hydrogen is a very expensive process. One problem is that hydrogen likes to destroy most metals. Any piping, compressor, or container must be made of expensive metals or lined with glass or something.

    I recall reading several articles over the years about the Navy working on a process to turn hydrogen and CO2 into hydrocarbon based fuels. The hydrogen would be from cracking water. The CO2 that is dissolved in the water would be extracted for the process. If this fuel

    • As I recall compressing and storing hydrogen is a very expensive process. One problem is that hydrogen likes to destroy most metals. Any piping, compressor, or container must be made of expensive metals or lined with glass or something.

      While this is true, the really expensive part is the high-pressure tank. It has to be fairly extreme to actually hold the hydrogen, let alone the issue of sealing it against the gas which is basically a solved problem. We already are using expensive alloys for common engines now that gasoline direct injection has become common. The big difference in practice now is that a gas tank is stamped out of sheet metal and costs basically nothing, and a hydrogen tank is made out of carbon fiber and titanium or alumi

      • I'd think that NOx would be produced in any internal combustion engine, I don't think that an engine running on hydrogen would be immune.

        Even if the problems of storing hydrogen are solved there is still a logistics issue in having machines that can burn it. If the technology is used solely to store energy for "burning' it again in the same device then compatibility with other devices is irrelevant. I just think that a device that can take water and electricity and store it as jet fuel would be an order o

      • As I recall compressing and storing hydrogen is a very expensive process. One problem is that hydrogen likes to destroy most metals. Any piping, compressor, or container must be made of expensive metals or lined with glass or something.

        While this is true, the really expensive part is the high-pressure tank. It has to be fairly extreme to actually hold the hydrogen, let alone the issue of sealing it against the gas which is basically a solved problem.

        In any scenario where the whole plant is surrounded by seawater and the hydrogen is going to be used right there and doesn't need to be transported anywhere else, you could use the sea itself as your pressure vessel. Provided the glass or other hydrogen-safe lining is strong enough to support its own weight then the increasing pressure inside could be matched by the pressure outside by lowering the tank deeper into the sea. (About 10m/bar)

  • A good description of the technology and it history can be found at https://csiropedia.csiro.au/ce... [csiro.au]
  • The in the story has a typo. It is not 50MW as stated, but 50KW.
    Also the diagram on the page the link points to has the Anode emitting electrons (to go through the load) which are then collected by the Cathode.
    I thought that it was the Cathode that emitted the electrons, which were then collected by the Anode.

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