South Korea forging ahead with fuel cell power

Modern Building - Bloom Energy

By Maura Forrest

February 27, 2014

The world’s largest fuel cell park has been completed in South Korea, marking the latest development in the country’s drive to advance clean energy.

The facility consists of 21 power plants provided by American manufacturer FuelCell Energy, each generating 2.8 megawatts of renewable power. A smaller fuel cell park is to be completed in Seoul by the end of 2014, in a partnership between FuelCell Energy and Korean-based Posco Energy.

South Korea has taken innovative approaches to electricity and heat production for several years, according to Dr. Erik Kjeang, director of Simon Fraser University’s fuel cell research laboratory.

“They don’t have the domestic energy resources, so they’re relying heavily on imported energy,” he said. “They’re looking at highly efficient ways to utilize energy to minimize the amount being imported. Fuel cells are highly efficient compared to competing technologies.”

Canada has experimented with fuel cell demonstration projects here at home, most notably a fleet of hydrogen-powered buses operating in Whistler, BC

But that project will be terminated in March 2014, and Kjeang said there are no commercial-scale power plants using fuel cells in Canada.

He explained that government policies help make expensive fuel cell technology cost-effective in South Korea. That support allows the country to do “more pioneering” than Canada.

“We have good technology, we have good products available [in Canada],” Kjeang said. “The missing piece in deployment here is continued government support.”

Lack of funding was also cited as the major challenge facing the Canadian hydrogen and fuel cell industry in a 2012 report. Still, the industry generated $211 million in revenue in 2011, with much of the activity based in British Columbia.

Kjeang says that Canada’s fuel cell sector is making a comeback, with more growth predicted over the coming years. He said the country has taken a leading role in the manufacture and development of fuel cell technology, even if it’s lagging on the implementation.

“There’s real traction,” Kjeang said. “And it’s kind of happening almost behind the scene, in terms of public knowledge. There is a multi-million-dollar market that can be tapped into.”

Photo Credit: Bloom Energy