Hydrogen fuel cell power station planned for UK

The UK is to get a 300MW fuel cell power station, powered by hydrogen derived from gasified coal.

The power station, planned to be built at Hatfield Colliery near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, will use alkaline fuel cells developed by AFC Energy, plus gasification technology which converts coal into hydrogen.

It is the brainchild of clean-coal specialist B9 Coal, which has agreed to install the fuel cells  alongside the 800MW gas turbine power station planned by colliery operator Powerfuel. Both power stations will be fuelled by syngas – a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, produced by reacting coal with oxygen at high pressure and temperature.

The syngas is then saturated with steam and the carbon monoxide catalysed to CO2 – which is separated for capture and sequestration – plus more hydrogen. Purified hydrogen can then either be diluted with nitrogen and burnt in a gas turbine, used to heat water for a steam turbine, or fed to a fuel cell and converted directly into electricity – AFC claims that its fuels cells have a conversion efficiency of 60 per cent, making them 50 per cent more efficient than a steam cycle.

The agreement between the three British companies involved – AFC, B9 Coal and Powerfuel Power – envisages the latter two forming a joint venture to develop turnkey low-carbon fuel cell power stations for installation elsewhere in the UK, and potentially in other countries too.

AFC has developed its low-cost fuel cell technology with the aim of installing it on an industrial scale on sites where there is already (or could be) a ready supply of hydrogen, such as chemical plants which produce it as a byproduct. As well as its work with Linc Technology to prove that the cells work on coal-derived hydrogen, it has also installed a pilot power plant for AkzoNobel at its Bitterfeld chlor-akali site, and has agreements with a number of other companies, including Waste2Tricity which plans to feed fuel cells with hydrogen from gasified municipal solid waste.

B9 Coal said that it had also assembled a consortium to combine the fuel cells with underground coal gasification (UGC) technology developed by Australia's Linc Energy. The consortium is bidding to build a clean-coal demo plant at Rio Tinto Alcan's site at Lynemouth, Northumberland, as part of a UK Department of Energy and Climate Change carbon-capture demonstration competition.

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