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Toyota is Working With the U.S. Dept of Energy to Advance ‘Megawatt-Scale' Fuel Cell Powered Stationary Energy Generators

Toyota is Working With the U.S. Dept of Energy to Advance ‘Megawatt-Scale' Fuel Cell Powered Stationary Energy Generators

Author: Eric Walz   

Toyota Motor North America is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to build, install and evaluate a 1-megawatt (MW) fuel cell power generation system at NREL's Flatirons Campus in Arvada, Colorado.

The fuel cell generator is part of the Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) megawatt-scale hydrogen system being designed and commissioned at NREL's campus in Colorado. 

The flexible system provides a platform to demonstrate direct renewable hydrogen production, energy storage, power production and grid integration at the megawatt scale. It includes a 600-kg hydrogen storage system.

The DOE's 3-year collaboration with Toyota is funded in part by its Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 

Unlike other automakers that have committed to developing battery-powered electric vehicles, Toyota is still actively developing fuel cell technology for its future models. But fuel cell technology has uses beyond the transportation industry, including for stationary energy storage systems and power generators.

Toyota said it leveraged its over 25 years of fuel cell development experience as it designed its 1-MW fuel cell system, expanding on its expertise from the light duty fuel cell electric vehicle market. 

Toyota says its new fuel cell system generates about 15 times more power and is capable of delivering direct current and alternating current output. The system shows how a simply designed fuel cell energy storage system can serve as a drop-in replacement for a conventional power generator.

Toyota has also developed an integrated control system to manage operation of the fuel cell modules to maximize efficiency and service life. 

The fuel cell power generating systems that Toyota is developing are known as "proton exchange membrane fuel cells" (PEMFCs), which operate at a lower temperature, are lighter and more compact. However for this project, Toyota aims to use the fuel cell technology for 1 MW energy storage systems, which is enough power to supply around 1,200 average-sized homes in the U.S.

PEMFCs were first developed in the early 1960's by chemists working for the General Electric Company. The project with the DOE will demonstrate how fuel cells can provide electricity for buildings and provide electrical power during periods of high demand on the grid.

The 1-MW fuel cell system integrates multiple Toyota fuel cell modules into a much larger system to provide stationary power when needed. The fuel cells are similar to the ones used in the fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai, which is one of the few fuel cell-powered models on sale globally. 

Instead of relying on a lithium-ion battery to power electric motors, the fuel cell powered Toyota Mirai uses hydrogen to produce electricity. The hydrogen travels to the fuel cell stack where it goes through a chemical reaction with oxygen in the air that generates electricity. This electricity is used to power the vehicle's electric motor.

Through a previous collaboration, NREL has demonstrated the use of a larger automotive fuel cell system to provide zero emissions, carbon-free power to a data center. 

"Achieving carbon neutrality requires all of us to explore new applications of zero-emission technology, including how that technology will integrate with other systems, which the project with NREL will identify," said Christopher Yang, group vice president, Business Development, Fuel Cell Solutions, Toyota. "The application of our modules in deployments of this magnitude shows the scalability of Toyota's fuel cell technology, whether it is a single fuel cell module for one passenger vehicle or multiple systems combined to power heavy-duty equipment."

For the project with the DOE, Toyota is working with Dallas-based engineering firm Telios on the design, auxiliary systems and construction of the system that will be delivered to the DOE's NREL. 

NREL researchers will push the operational boundaries of the fuel cell system design to identify performance limitations and monitor degradation over time. This valuable real-world data will be used for the development of future applications of fuel cell technology. 

The research will also include assessing how the system performs when integrated with energy storage and renewable energy generation systems, such as solar photovoltaic and wind.

"We will study the scaling of PEM fuel cell systems for stationary power generation to understand what the performance, durability and system integration challenges are," said Daniel Leighton, an NREL research engineer and principal investigator on the project. "This fuel cell generator system also creates a new megawatt-scale fuel cell research capability at NREL."

The DOE's fuel cell generator system will be installed this summer, and the full system will be commissioned later in 2022.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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