UK's biggest fuel cell shows tech no longer Sci-Fi

A hydrogen fuel cell powering a London office block is a real reminder that the emissions-saving technology not only works, but cuts costs too.

On Friday, Transport for London (TfL) and the London Development Agency announced they would sign up to the 10:10 campaign to cut carbon emissions from head office buildings and save £400,000 off energy bills.

edie took the opportunity to check out the state of the art fuel cell that's powering TfL's icon Palestra HQ.

Even among those in the know, there's often a feeling that hydrogen's not quite there and the figures don't stack up yet.

But the Palestra fuel cell would beg to differ.

The cell provides electricity, heating and cooling for the Southwark office block, will provide enough power to meet around a quarter of the building's requirements during working hours, and will make the building totally self sufficient off-peak.

Although publicly funded, this isn't about using government money to showcase an impressive-yet-commercially-unrealistic technology.

Its advocates argue that there are sound financial arguments behind the fuel cell's installation, as well as the obvious environmental ones.

The fuel cell wasn't cheap - at £2.4m it put a sizeable dent in TfL's £25m Climate Change fund.

But the company that supplied the technology, Logan Energy, claim it will save TfL around £2.5m over the course of its 15-year working life, compared with a conventional CHP unit - and that's assuming energy prices remain stable over that period.

If the cost of energy increases, the savings will be more.

Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London and chair of the London Hydrogen Partnership, told edie he wanted to see this technology mainstreamed.

"We want to show people that it's not fantasy - for a lot of people hydrogen fuel is still something like science fiction," he said.

But in reality, he said, it's an established technology that makes commercial and operational sense, saving money and providing more resilience - as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

He said it made sense for TfL to use a significant portion of its climate budget on its buildings - transportation is a significant source of London's emissions but its share is dwarfed by those of the built environment.

"This thing produces nothing but water - this has to be the way forward," he said.

"We hope that others will follow the lead."

Andrew Stanton, head of sustainable buildings for TfL, told edie that the hydrogen fuel cell had been chose over biomass due to uncertainties over a long-term secure supply of sustainable biofuel.

He said the organisation had also wanted to demonstrate that this is not exotic technology - and ties in well with plans for hydrogen buses.

"Installing the UK's biggest in-house hydrogen fuel cell and signing up to the 10:10 commitment reinforces TfL's commitment to cutting carbon and improving our energy efficiency," he said.

"TfL will continue to drive forward programmes that will result in CO2 reductions and increased fuel efficiency."

Sam Bond


| hydrogen


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