A few months back, The Albany Business Review reported that General Electric was developing an operation to manufacture solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) for commercial and residential power applications. The now-open fuel cell pilot facility is located on Hermes Road in the Saratoga Technology + Energy Park in Malta, NY. GE Global Research is directing the new business, operating as a separate GE unit. The Park is owned and operated by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The new Malta plant, opened in August of this year, is outfitted with robotic thermal spray equipment, fuel cell test stations, screen printers, and bulk gas storage tanks. Twenty workers are now employed at the start-up plant, a number that will grow to 30 by December 2014. It is anticipated that the number of employees will increase as manufacturing processes are refined and production begins in a full-scale plant.
What are Fuel Cells?
Fuel cells work like a battery, with no moving parts. Fuel cells convert chemical energy (hydrogen molecules) directly into electrical energy with little environmental impact. Fuel cells are more efficient and cleaner to manufacture than conventional power, which is generated by converting chemical energy first into heat and then into electrical energy. GE recently announced a method to replace the need for rare earths and platinum in the fuel cell process with stainless steel, which is more abundant and much cheaper.
The Future of Fuel Cell Energy
According to the TimesUnion.com, GE hopes, one day, to provide low-cost electricity without the need to add expensive, large power plants and transmission lines.
GE anticipates that its first fuel cells will reach the market in 2017. Each fuel cell will be the size of two tractor-trailers and will produce between one to ten megawatts of power. A megawatt could power 1,000 average-sized homes for a year. GE will market these fuel cells to large commercial and industrial plants that need a reliable power source independent of the local electric grid.