GE's New Product Introduction Accelerator Lab in Plainville, Connecticut. (Photo: GE)

GE's New Product Introduction Accelerator Lab in Plainville, Connecticut. (Photo: GE)

GE Claims Breakthrough in Fuel-Cell Tech, Launches Fuel-Cell Subsidiary

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General Electric unveiled a fuel-cell subsidiary called GE Fuel Cells and said it was building a new fuel-cell manufacturing plant in upstate New York. Fuel cells use natural gas or biogas to generate electricity and have seen some adoption in the data center space.

GE Fuel Cells is essentially a corporate-backed startup tasked with commercializing a new fuel-cell technology the company says may bring the cost down substantially. GE said its scientists have reached a breakthrough in solid oxide fuel-cell technology, which led to the formation of the new subsidiary and construction of the manufacturing plant.

Fuel cells generate energy by triggering a chemical reaction, and the designs used to date require costly materials to generate that reaction, according to the vendor. GE’s new fuel cells use stainless steel in place of platinum and rare metals, which should bring the cost down.

GE has reached a breakthrough when it comes to fuel cell technology (source: GE webpage)

Fuel cells are a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power plants and have been used in tandem with wind and solar farms. Apple has taken this approach to powering its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, and eBay’s latest data center in Utah relies entirely on fuel cells for power.

The two projects are exceptions, however. The majority of fuel cell deployments at data center sites have been experimental and supplementary to grid power.

“The cost challenges associated with the technology have stumped a lot of people for a long time,” said Johanna Wellington, advanced technology leader at GE Global Research and the head of GE’s fuel cell business. “But we made it work, and we made it work economically. It’s a game-changer.”

The announcement brings a heavyweight player to the fuel cell market. Of companies selling fuel cells into the data center space, the most successful has been Bloom Energy, whose products power the Apple and eBay facilities, and have been deployed at CenturyLink’s California data center.

Other companies with fuel-cell products for data centers include Hydrogenics, whose hydrogen-powered fuel cells are sold by CommScope as an alternative to diesel generators, and ClearEdge Power.

About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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4 Comments

  1. Jeff McCloud

    Here is what GE said last month??? GE - “It’s almost impossible to do a good fuel cell without platinum as a catalyst,” Vlatko Vlatkovic, chief engineering officer of GE’s Power Conversion division, said in an interview in London. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-27/fuel-cell-boom-hampered-by-need-for-platinum-ge-says.html What Vlatkovic seems to be missing is that there are Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells as in "Worlds Largest" that DO NOT USE PLATINUM! Construction of world's largest fuel cell power plant. (in South Korea? with USA developed fuel cell technology??) http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/construction-of-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-power-plant-expected-to-commence-in-2012 By the way Fuel Cell Energy also owns Versa Power (SOFC ip) ... Research ************ What is the value of this below? Video (Someone took down the video but the article still there) below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure. "New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world's first" http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=8310315 "It is here today and it is deployable today," said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project. 2.8MW fuel cell using biogas now operating; Largest PPA of its kind in North America http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/28-mw-fuel-cell-using-biogas-now-operating-largest-ppa-of-its-kind-in-north-america

  2. Tim Burke

    You missed this in the GE articled you linked.. "GE Power Conversion spent time investigating fuel cell technology and concluded it’s “very challenging,” its head engineer said. The unit is researching an alternative -- solid oxide fuel cells -- that don’t need noble metals. An actual product is “very far off,” he said." It's always far off until you have a breakthrough. "GE said its scientists have reached a breakthrough in solid oxide fuel-cell technology"

  3. @ Tim Burke, I didn't link to the article you quote. I did LOOK for your quote, and it was from a March article on Bloomberg.This article above is from July, 5 months later. Regards, Jason

  4. Dave Rice

    Too bad GE did not put their new Fuel Cell Technology in West Virginia where thousands of workers could use the poortunity to get and hold a good and long lasting job. Putting it in New York where no more new jobe are needed is simply foolish and greedy. I now you do not think people in west Virginia need jobs, or to eat three meals daily, but the next time something this new comes along please consider WV. We have some of the best workers in the country.