Fuel Cell Manufacturer Gets Funding Boost

Fuel cell technology has received further backing as a technology to power data centres: America’s ClearEdge Power has raised more finance, and announced plans to expand into Europe.

Fuel cells generate electricity from a chemical reaction using hydrogen or a hydrocarbon such as methanol. They are proposed as “clean energy”, like a generator but without actually burning the fuel.

ClearEdge, which makes the ClearEdge5 fuel cells which can scale up enough to power data centres, taking the place of the back-up diesel generators. It has raised $73.5million of new finance from sources including Austria’s Güssing Renewable Energy and the Southern California Gas Company.

The Californian company, plans to use the money to expand internationally into Europe and develop new products.

Said ClearEdge Power President and CEO Russell Ford (pictured): “This new investment provides the capital necessary for ClearEdge Power to build on our already strong foundation by entering new markets, advancing our technology and commercializing new products.”

The ClearEdge5 works by drawing hydrogen molecules from a premises’ natural gas supply and combining them with oxygen from the atmosphere in an electrochemical process.

The cell generates up to 5kW of electricity in this way without combustion, reducing carbon emissions by up to 40 percent compared with conventional power sources, the company says.

The green lobby

Fuel cell technology is gaining supporters as a greener alternative to diesel generators as back-up power for data centres.

Thomas Melczer of Proton Power Systems told eWEEK Europe UK in July that he believed the hydrogen based concept was just two to three years away from making a significant impact on the market.

Google and eBay are among the companies already testing or investing in fuel cell technology.

US clean technology research firm Pike Research recently reported that the stationary fuel cell industry had grown by 27 percent in two years.

It also predicts that annual sales of 1.2 million units will be achieved by 2017, which ClearEdge Power says it is poised to tap into with the scalable ClearEdge5.

“The fuel cell industry is reaching an important tipping point and over the next 18 months a clear gap will begin to emerge between companies that have strong products and clearly defined markets and those that do not,” said Dr. Kerry-Ann Adamson, Research Director, Pike Research.

Postive outlook

Uptake of fuel cell technology is often hampered by the upfront cost, with return on investment dependant on energy prices which are prone to fluctuations.

ClearEdge Power is reported to be in discussions with financial institutions in order to be able to offer financing packages.

It also recently received government support in the form of a US Department of Energy grant to drive adoption and international expansion.

A major player in the fuel cell space is the Bloom Energy Corporation, the company behind the Bloom Box Energy Server adopted by eBay last year. Google is also reported to be testing the Bloom Box.

David Jamieson

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