Hydrogen power for JTC building

Developer’s CleanTech One building to be first of its kind here in 2011

THE first building in the upcoming CleanTech Park in Jurong will be the first in Singapore to run on hydrogen power generated in-house.

To be completed late next year, the developer JTC Corporation’s CleanTech One building will have a one-megawatt power plant that will generate hydrogen when it is fed wood chips, plant waste and other biological material.

The fuel-cell plant, expected to provide about 20 per cent of CleanTech One’s power needs, is the latest foray into hydrogen-fuel technology here.

The fuel produces no polluting carbon dioxide when turned into energy and is hence regarded as ‘clean’.

Companies and institutions worldwide are trying to adopt hydrogen-fuel technology as a possible replacement for fossil fuels, which produce carbon dioxide when burned to generate electricity.

The accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been identified as a key factor behind climate change.

Besides chugging along on hydrogen power, CleanTech One has other eco-friendly features, including the generous use of natural ventilation, a dehumidifier powered by solar energy and a biodigester to decompose food waste cleanly, a JTC spokesman said.

JTC’s director of its aerospace, marine and cleantech cluster Tang Wai Yee said CleanTech One would be a test-bed for such technology, and expressed hope that other clean technologies would be discovered or commercialised there.

Hydrogen fuel cells work by converting the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity and water. The gas can be obtained from hydrocarbon-containing fuels like natural gas, biogas and diesel.

Cost is one obstacle to its wider use.

Producing power from hydrogen fuel cells now costs about $4,000 per kilowatt (kW), said Mr Avier Lim, the founder of fuel-cell firm GasHub Technology.

This price tag makes hydrogen power generation competitive only in places like rural Indonesia, for instance, where the costs of diesel-power generation and generator maintenance are relatively high.

Statistics from the United States Department of Energy put the cost of diesel-power generation at US$800 to US$1,500 (S$1,130 to S$2,120) per kW.

Developer JTC would not disclose the cost of its hydrogen fuel cell plant; it would say only that it was included in the $90 million it cost to design and build its building.

GasHub’s Mr Lim reckons a plant that size can take three to four years to recoup its costs, depending on its efficiency.

Hydrogen fuel projects have had a patchy record here.

In last year’s Shell Eco-Marathon, a hydrogen fuel cell car built by a National University of Singapore team travelled 484km on a single litre of the fuel.

But previous hydrogen-fuel pilot projects, such as a scheme to make small, powerful power generators, have failed.

The Rolls Royce one costing US$100 million to US$200 million started five years ago, in which the Singapore Government had a stake, could not progress to production stage due to technical issues.

Mr Lim said fuel cells need more support infrastructure and government endorsement, as is available in other countries.

Associate Professor Lu Wen Feng of the National University of Singapore, who supervises the Eco-Marathon hydrogen car team, said the efficiency and reliability of fuel cells need improving.

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