Fuel cell converts gas into heat and electricity without producing carbon emissions

Fuel cell technology used to power Nasa's space shuttle will provide light and heat for Al Gore's new London headquarters. The fuel cell, which converts gas into heat and electricity without producing carbon emissions, has been installed in a major crown estate development in Regent Street in the capital.

"The fuel cell is a real flag in the sand, demonstrating what is possible in terms of energy efficiency and carbon reduction," said the crown estate's head of development, Alastair Smart. The cost of the new system, the first of its kind to be installed in the UK, has not been revealed but Smart said: "It offers a commercially viable and sustainable source of energy. One of the main reasons for this is that the infrastructure lasts for 20 years, a lot longer than traditional systems."

Climate campaigner and former vice-president Gore said the £400m Quadrant 3 redevelopment showed a "sophisticated commitment to sustainability". The headquarters of his sustainable investment company, Generation Investment Management, will be sited in the new buildings.

The cell was developed by U.S. company FuelCell Energy. It will emit 38% less carbon dioxide than using electricity from the grid and heat from gas-fired boilers, according to the crown estate, which says 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be saved per year. Unlike fossil-fuel-burning power plants, the fuel cell produces power with virtually no nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) or particulate matter (PM) pollution.

The new plant forms part of the central energy system that serves 500,000 sq ft of offices, shops, flats, restaurants and hotels in the Quadrant development.

Mike Rinker, at the US department of energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: "Combined heat and power fuel cell systems can help commercial buildings with high energy demands reap significant savings in energy cost and use. We anticipate this type of system could reduce the fuel costs and carbon footprint of a commercial building by approximately 40%, compared with conventional electricity and heat use." PNNL is testing its fuel cell system at 10 businesses in California and Oregon.

Other companies are developing washing-machine-sized fuel cells, which could power individual homes.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image via Agence France-Presse]