DaimlerChrysler's new fuel-cell power plant in Vance, Alabama, USA, will deepen the carmaker's insight into fuel-cell science.
D/C broke ground on the fuel-cell power plant early last month.
The Alabama project will result in a stationary power source that delivers about 250 kilowatts. That is only one-eightieth of the peak power needed to run DaimlerChrysler's USA automaking subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz US International Inc.
But the fuel-cell power plant is an exercise in environmentally friendly energy research that is being watched closely by the industry. Fuel cells are getting top priority from automakers seeking pollution-free powertrains to meet strict emissions regulations in the near future.
'We are, in a manner of speaking, an industrial guinea pig,' said Mark Warner, environmental engineer for the Alabama Mercedes-Benz sport-utility plant.
Warner said the auto factory's role in the $2 million power project is almost incidental to the roles of two other partners in the project: MTU Friedrichshafen, another subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler; and FuelCell Energy Inc. of Danbury, Connecticut, USA.
Those two companies are attempting to put FuelCell Energy's patented energy technology into broader commercial applications around the world. The partners have put power plants in a university in Germany, the Santa Clara, California, USA, power grid and other locations.
In addition to marketing stationary fuel-cell power, MTU also develops engine technology for DaimlerChrysler, including fuel-cell auto engines, diesel and marine engines.
Licensing the Connecticut company's technology, MTU developed a fuel-cell 'hot module' that is the source for a separate non-automotive revenue stream for DaimlerChrysler. Separately, the automaker is working with the technology of Ballard Power Systems Inc. of Canada to develop its standard technology for future fuel-cell vehicles.
MTU's technology will power DaimlerChrysler's planned fuel-cell vehicle, the NECAR 5, as well as a Chrysler version of the vehicle.
The fuel-cell 'stack' at the center of both stationary and mobile fuel cells is essentially a small power generator that uses a chemical reaction to convert a fuel such as natural gas into electricity. Its emissions consist of hot air and water.
The Alabama project will provide data to MTU and FuelCell Energy to further their energy research, Warner said. Working on the project with FuelCell and the DaimlerChrysler subsidiaries are Southern Co., the regional utility provider, and the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority.