How Do Natural Gas Fuel Cells Work?

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts natural gas and oxygen into electricity, heat, and water without the use of combustion! It functions similarly to a battery, in that it never needs to be charged and can power your entire home.

What is the working principle of a fuel cell?

Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they do not run out of power or require recharging. As long as fuel is available, they create electricity and heat. A fuel cell is made up of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte: a negative electrode (or anode) and a positive electrode (or cathode). The anode receives a fuel, such as hydrogen, while the cathode receives air. A catalyst at the anode of a hydrogen fuel cell divides hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons, which travel along distinct pathways to the cathode. The electrons travel through an external circuit, causing electricity to flow. Protons go through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they combine with oxygen and electrons to form water and heat. Find out more about:

Visit observe how a fuel cell works, go to the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office’s fuel cell animation.

How do you use natural gas to generate electricity?

Gas is a fossil fuel that can be used to power a generator. We generate heat by burning gas, which drives a turbine. The turbine’s motion spins a generator, which generates energy.

What is a biogas fuel cell and how does it work?

In contrast to combustion, which drives a mechanical process that powers an electrical generator to produce power, a biogas fuel cell produces direct current electricity via an electrochemical process. This electrochemical technique results in significantly fewer criterion pollutant emissions, and in some circumstances, no emissions at all.

What are home fuel cells and how do they work?

The fuel cell unit generates electricity by combining hydrogen from gas with oxygen from the air. The reaction’s heat is used to heat water, and the resulting hot water is kept in the hot water storage unit.

How does a fuel cell generate electricity?

Hydrogen fuel cells work by mixing hydrogen and oxygen atoms to generate power. The hydrogen combines with oxygen in a battery-like electrochemical cell to produce electricity, water, and a little quantity of heat.

Fuel cells come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they can be used for a variety of purposes. Laptop computers, cell phones, and military applications can all be powered by small fuel cells. Large fuel cells can power electric power systems, provide backup or emergency power in buildings, and provide electricity in areas that aren’t linked to the grid.

There were roughly 166 functioning fuel cell electric power generators at 113 locations in the United States as of the end of October 2021, with a total capacity of about 260 megawatts (MW). Bridgeport (Connecticut) Fuel Cell, LLC has the largest single fuel cell, with a generation capacity of roughly 16 MW. Each of the next two largest operational fuel cells has a generation capacity of 6 MW. One of them is at the Red Lion Energy Center in Delaware, which also contains five smaller fuel cells for a total power generation capacity of 25 MW at the facility. The hydrogen source for the bulk of the operational fuel cells is pipeline natural gas, although three utilize landfill gas and three use biogas from wastewater treatment.

The San Diego Gas and Electric power-to-gas-to-power project will use the electric grid to manufacture hydrogen via electrolysis, which will then be used to generate electricity in a fuel cell.

How much electricity is generated by a natural gas power plant?

In 2021, the yearly average amounts of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels used by US electric utilities and independent power providers to create a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity were:1

Electric utilities and independent power producers in the United States generated the following yearly average number of kWh per amount of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels utilized for electricity generation in 2021:1

The figures above are based on preliminary data from the Electric Power Monthly for 2021, which was published in April 2022, as well as simple averages of national-level annual statistics for electric utilities and independent power providers. They are the annual average amounts for the majority of the electricity generated for sale in the United States, but they do not include power generated in the commercial and industrial sectors. Fuel use for useable thermal output in combined heat and power plants is not included in the fuel consumption data used for the above quantities.

Actual numbers for a particular generator or power plant may differ significantly from those listed above. The amount of fuel consumed to create electricity is determined by the generator’s efficiency (or heat rate) and the heat content of the fuel. The types of generators (primary movers), the type and heat content of fuels, power plant emission controls, and other factors all affect power plant efficiencies (heat rates).

The amount of fuel consumed to generate a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity can be calculated using two formulas:

  • Heat rate (in British thermal units per kWh) divided by Fuel heat content = Amount of fuel used per kWh (in Btu per physical unit)
  • Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit) divided by Heat rate = Kilowatthour created per unit of fuel used (in Btu per kWh)

The following are some of the data sources available from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) for those calculations:

  • The average quality of fossil fuel receipts for the electric power industry is shown in Table 7.3. ( xls )

Appendices providing fuel heat contents, electricity heat rates, and conversion factors are included in the Monthly Energy Review.

On a national and state level, as well as at individual power plants, the EIA releases monthly and annual data on the quantity of electricity generated and associated fuel consumption by electricity producers. This information can also be used to compute fuel use per kWh of electricity generated, as well as kWh generation per unit of fuel consumption.

  • Data on total power generation in the United States (Table(s) 7.2) and electricity generation fuel consumption (Table(s) 7.3).
  • Historical power data files at the state level, including annual and monthly electricity generation and fuel usage.
  • Data on fuel consumption and electricity generation at individual power plants in the United States, broken down by fuel/energy source.

1 In combined heat and power plants, fuel is not used for usable thermal output.

Other FAQs about Electricity

  • A kilowatthour of electricity is generated using how much coal, natural gas, or petroleum?
  • How much does it cost to produce electricity using various power plants?
  • How much of the energy consumed and generated in the United States comes from renewable sources?
  • How much of the carbon dioxide produced in the United States is due to power generation?
  • Is the EIA able to provide data on energy use and prices for cities, counties, or zip codes?
  • What is the number and location of nuclear power plants in the United States?
  • Does the EIA provide state-by-state estimates or projections for energy output, consumption, and prices?
  • In the United States, how much does it cost to create various types of power plants?
  • Is data on peak or hourly electricity generation, demand, and prices available from the EIA?
  • In the United States, how much electricity is lost in transmission and distribution?
  • Is the location of electric power plants, transmission lines, and substations published by the EIA?
  • What’s the difference between electricity generation capacity and actual generation of power?
  • Is the EIA aware of any unplanned disruptions or shutdowns of energy infrastructure in the United States?

Natural gas is a nonrenewable resource

Natural gas, like other fossil energy sources (such as coal and oil), is a finite resource that will eventually run out. Despite the fact that it is a non-renewable and non-sustainable energy source, it can nonetheless contribute to our planet’s long-term viability. Natural gas can be utilized as a “cleaner” alternative to oil and coal until renewable energy takes over the world’s energy balance.

Natural Gas Emits Carbon Dioxide

This is by far the most significant drawback of natural gas. We’ll talk about how you can use carbon offsets to offset your natural gas usage in a sustainable way at the end of this piece.

Natural gas can be difficult to harness

To use natural gas, all of its components must be removed (excluding methane). Hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, etc.), sulfur, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and even helium and nitrogen are produced as a result of this process.

Natural gas was originally used to power street lights in the early 1800s, and then for heating and cooking in the 1900s, although it was far less common than coal and oil. Natural gas exploded in popularity as extraction and transportation methods improved considerably during the last fifty years. It now supplies 22 percent of the world’s energy, which is used for heating, generating electricity, and even fueling engines, and is considered as cleaner and less expensive than coal.

Natural gas has both benefits and drawbacks. Despite its drawbacks, natural gas remains one of the world’s most affordable and widely available fossil fuels, and it can serve as a viable substitute for other fossil fuels until something more efficient is discovered. Natural gas is unquestionably a booming business that, with additional technological advancements, can help lead the way to a more sustainable future.

Is FuelCell Energy the Energy of the Future?

FuelCell Energy is now losing money, and it will take a few more years to break even. As a result, FCEL’s financial projections are primarily concerned with future revenue estimations.

FuelCell Energy’s revenue is predicted to expand by +109.9% and +20.9 percent in FY 2022 and FY 2023, respectively, to $146.1 million and $176.6 million, as previously stated. Because the bulk of sell-side analysts tracking FCEL have yet to publish their financial forecasts for fiscal 2024-2026, the consensus sales expectations for FY 2024 and beyond are less significant.

There are two major factors driving FCEL’s predicted +109.9% increase in revenue in fiscal 2022.

For starters, FuelCell Energy has stated that instead of relying entirely on Purchase Power Agreements (PPAs) in the future, the company will focus on growing product sales.

“Over the previous two fiscal years, we have generated basically nil revenues from product sales,” FCEL admitted at its Q4 FY 2021 earnings announcement on December 29, 2021. However, on a recent investor call, the business stated that it is “looking forward to generating chances in other Asian areas as well as certain countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, where we have made product sales a priority.”

Because of a legal battle with Posco Energy, which bills itself as “the world’s largest fuel cell producer,” FuelCell Energy has been unable to generate any cash from product sales in the last two years.

Posco Energy “will sue FuelCell Energy for providing a defective component and power-conditioning (stabilization) equipment,” according to The Korea Times in April 2020. “The litigation with POSCO created market confusion for customers, which made it harder for us to produce product sales,” FCEL said during its Q4 FY 2021 earnings call.

FuelCell Energy said on December 27, 2021 that it has “entered into a settlement deal” with Posco Energy, resolving the legal difficulties. This settlement also “confirms FuelCell Energy’s access to offer products in the Asian market, including South Korea,” according to FCEL.

Second, according to FCEL’s Q4 FY 2021 earnings call, an order for 20 modules from Posco Energy is estimated to generate $60 million in product sales in 2022. This is part of the previously mentioned settlement between FuelCell Energy and Posco Energy.

According to S&P Capital IQ data, the market anticipates FuelCell Energy will expand its top line by +$76.5 million and +$30.6 million in FY 2022 and FY 2023, respectively. The $60 million in additional income contribution from Posco Energy is clearly recognized as a one-time event. The sale of 20 modules ($60 million) is expected to account for 78 percent of FCEL’s revenue rise ($76.5 million) in FY 2022, with revenue growth decreasing in FY 2023, according to the sell-side.

FuelCell Energy’s business prospects are mixed in the future. On the one hand, following the settlement with Posco Energy, FuelCell Energy has the opportunity to earn product sales in South Korea and other Asian countries in the future. FCEL, on the other hand, will continue to compete with other businesses in the future, and there is no assurance that it will be successful in bidding on new projects.