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Fuel cell microgrids to get spark from renewable biogas

ClearEdge Power lands big deal with Gussing Renewable Energy in Austria to supply 50 megawatts worth of fuel cells over the next five years, one of the largest stationary fuel cell deals to date.

Each fuel cell generates 5 kilowatts of electric power and heat. ClearEdge Power

An energy project in Austria will use biogas-powered fuel cells at homes and businesses to pump power into the grid.

ClearEdge Power today announced a deal with Austrian energy company Gussing Renewable Energy to supply 50 megawatts worth of fuel cells between now and 2020 for installation in Austria. The deal will be worth $500 million over that time, making it one of the biggest contracts for stationary fuel cells.

In the first phase, ClearEdge Power's large refrigerator-size fuel cells, which each can generate five kilowatts of electric power and heat from gas, will be installed to power groups of residences and commercial buildings. Some will be designed as microgrids, where the fuel cells will be a distributed energy source for a network of buildings, according to the representative.

Most fuel cells convert natural gas to electricity and heat. At the Gussing project, about 25 percent of its fuel cells will initially run on biogas, or methane derived from biomass such as trash, yard clippings, or food. Gussing Renewable Energy's, which develops low-carbon energy projects, plans to use biogas entirely by 2020, according to ClearEdge Power.

This is the third contract for large fuel cell projects in the past few months, a sign that natural gas and biogas-powered generation could be getting more attention from utilities.

Bloom Energy has proposed a project to manufacture its fuel cells in Delaware and supply 30 megawatts of power at two Delmarva Power substations. In November last year, FuelCell Energy said that an 11.2 megawatt fuel cell park is now operating in Daegu City, South Korea.

Those systems are very small compared to a full-size power plant, but comparable in the output capacity of small to medium-size wind and solar farms.

ClearEdge Power said that 8.5 megawatts of the planned 50 megawatts will be installed over the next three years. Gussing Renewable Energy invested in the company last year.

The company makes a relatively small stationary fuel cell that generates both electricity and heat, making them 90 percent efficient at converting gas into usable energy. Its fuel cells don't emit any air pollutants and they reduce carbon emissions by 35 percent to 40 percent compared to natural gas power plants, according to the company.

Updated on January 17 with correction regarding the time span of the contract.