Saturday, March 24, 2007

FuelCell Energy coming to India

In another sign of cutting-edge alternate energy technology coming into India, US-based FuelCell Energy plans to invest $100 mn in setting up infrastructure for fuel cell power plants, in a plan that will later involve R&D and manufacturing.

The Plans for India

FuelCell plans to set up its first unit in Gujarat. The company does not want to go the subsidiary route and is in talks with Reliance, L&T and Kirloskar for possible tie-ups. The company also claimed that the investment could go as high as $500 mn to $1 bn.

Speaking about the plans, Pinakin Patel, Director Special Systems and Research, FuelCell Energy, had some interesting comments to make. He claimed that the production cost of power would be $1000 per kw, as against $3000 in the US, because of lower cost of components. I presume he means capital cost. '"Moreover, the power generated there (USA) is around 1,000 mw while given the market conditions in India and the huge demand we are looking for an initial power generation of 10,000 mw,” said Patel, adding that the company would, however, begin at a lower level of power generation at 10 MW capacity to 100 MW capacity to avoid risks.' Though initially the company will import fuel cells from its US plants, eventually it hopes to manufacture them in India.

"Fuel Cell Energy will be operating in India in phases beginning by the end of 2007 or early 2008".

What this means for the power scene in India

FuelCell Energy represents cutting-edge technology in ultra-clean electric power generation from renewable sources like bio-gas, or from "cleaner" sources like natural gas. The company recently installed a 1 MW power plant that will run on gas generated from 30 millions gallons of waste water everyday. Among other initiatives the company has also tied up with Air Products to build a Hydrogen Power Station by combining their Direct FuelCell power plants with Air Products' advanced gas separation technologies.

Though India is not big on hydrogen, there is a big stress on power from municipal waste and biomass where the waste is converted into biogas and then run through combustion-based generators to produce electricity. Fuel cells do this in a much cleaner and efficient way. Also at $1000 per KW, the capital cost is very competitive with more traditional power plants. Even if natural gas is used instead of biogas, the plant will still pollute far less than a traditional natural gas plant, which itself is much cleaner than a coal plant.

Update: FuelCell also has a 10 year agreement with Korean power producer POSCO Power to sell and develop fuel cell generation plants in South Korea.