Food and beverage manufacturers are more committed than ever to safe and sustainable operations. Carbon recovery has risen in popularity as companies work to balance profitability with their net-zero ambitions. While other technologies consume power to capture carbon, our fuel cells can simultaneously produce power while capturing CO2. Fuel cells can help businesses generate their own beverage-grade CO2, reduce GHG emissions, improve water circularity, and secure their long-term energy costs. FuelCell Energy's Carbon Recovery solution generates electricity, heat, and water, with the ability to recycle CO2 into a valuable product.
Fuel cells can be particularly useful for businesses that use CO2 in their production process, such as:
We can work with you to quantify our technology's potential impact to your emissions-reduction plan.
Fuel cells electrochemically react fuel and air to create power. The reaction is virtually free of pollutants since there is no combustion. Carbonate fuel cells can run off a variety of methane-based (CH4) fuels like natural gas, biogas, or anaerobic digester gas. Creative breweries have even fueled their power plants with renewable waste byproducts from their brewing process. Fuel cells are arranged in sets of connected individual cells, known as stacks, with the ability to produce between 250 kW to 400 kW of power. FuelCell Energy’s standard MW-scale module contains four stacks and nets around 1.4 MW of power.
Fuel cell power plants are made up of one or more modules and have electrical and mechanical systems to convert DC power to AC power at the desired voltage. Electricity generated by fuel cells can be delivered to the grid or used by a facility. Fuel cells can also be configured as microgrids, supplying power during normal operation and in the event of a disturbance. On-site power can maximize production uptime by helping to avoid costly outages.
Fuel cells are designed with a modular approach, allowing them to adapt to the energy demands of different locations. Fuel cell plants are particularly advantageous for food and beverage manufacturers due to their compact size, quiet operation, and combustion-free process. Additionally, the electrical efficiency of carbonate fuel cell solutions typically ranges from 47 percent to 60 percent during initial operations, depending on the configuration. This level of efficiency makes fuel cell plants an ideal solution for businesses looking to control their long-term energy costs.
The high efficiency of fuel cells means they emit less carbon dioxide per kWh of power generation than other fuel-based power systems, and if the fuel is biogas, the power is carbon neutral. Some U.S. states have already classified certain fuel cells as Class I renewable power generators due to their low carbon emissions, negligible criteria pollutants, and high efficiency.
Fuel cells electrochemically react to fuel and air to create power, without combustion. Reacting fuel and air electrochemically involves delivering fuel to a set of negative electrodes (called anodes) and delivering air to a set of positive electrodes (called cathodes). The electrochemical reaction of fuel produces electrons. The electrochemical reaction of oxygen in air consumes electrons. Connecting the two produces the current of usable electrical power.
FuelCell Energy’s carbonate platform gets its name from its electrolyte inside the cells. Both potassium and lithium carbonates make up the electrolyte. Carbonate ions migrate between the fuel and air electrodes. Inside the fuel cell modules, methane (CH4) is steam-reformed into hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The isolated carbonate ions filter through the electrolytes in each cell, resulting in a concentrated stream of CO2 available for recovery.
The fact that the CO2 is produced in the fuel electrodes before being mixed with diluting air means that it can be easily extracted before being exhausted, to avoid the emission or to provide CO2 to a user as an industrial gas. An output stream containing high concentrations of CO2 is cooled and pre-filtered before entering a shift reactor, where any residual traces of chemicals are converted into pure value streams of water, hydrogen, and CO2.
Purification modules can be paired with the system to ensure the final CO2 product meets beverage-grade CO2 standards. Rather than being emitted into the atmosphere, the recovered CO2 can be sold, sequestered, or used on-site. Carbon recovery allows fuel cells to be cleaner sources of power generation, even when they are operating on nonrenewable fuels.
CO2 recovery lets businesses stabilize the supply of a key ingredient and become more self-reliant on their supply chain. Self-reliance means avoiding risk factors such as price fluctuations associated with purchasing commercial CO2 from external suppliers. By recycling CO2 on-site, businesses have greater control over their supply and are not subject to external suppliers, ensuring that they always have a stable and reliable source of CO2 available.
Purification modules can be paired with the the CO2 recovery system to ensure the product meets the required standards, from industrial grade to ISBT Beverage-grade CO2. Purifying CO2 on-site lets producers continuously monitor, document, and control the quality, flavor, and supply of their source. Self-supplying CO2 can reduce the risk of third-party quality issues, supplier source contamination, lack of availability, and force majeure price increases.
Without beverage-grade CO2, processes like carbonation would not be possible. Many companies rely on a stable supply of beverage-grade CO2 to keep their operations running. For food and beverage producers, the quality of the gas they use is of utmost importance to ensure the safety and consistency of their products. Beverage-grade CO2 is required to keep carbonated beverages carbonated, preserve the shelf life of packaged foods, and even provide an inert atmosphere for food packaging and processing.
FuelCell Energy contracted with B&R Compliance Associates in collaboration with Analytical Sciences & Technologies to conduct a third-party, independently tested fingerprint analysis of the fuel cell’s anode exhaust. The anode exhaust gas had negligible traces of aromatics (BTEX: Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene), and had no concern for any hazard from these aromatics compared to other sources of CO2. The analysis concluded that fuel cell anode exhaust gas can be easily purified to exceed the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT) spec for beverage-grade CO2.
"Anode exhaust is some of the “cleanest” Carbon Dioxide feed gas we have seen to date. It is our opinion that the conventional Carbon Dioxide purification technologies widely used today to process other traditional feed gas sources are more than adequate for reliably and consistently processing fuel cell anode exhaust into commercial Carbon Dioxide meeting or exceeding the ISBT Beverage Grade Specifications."
- B&R Compliance Associates
Download our white paper "Fuel cells: a new source for beverage-grade CO2" to learn more.
The three main sources of CO2 used for beverage-grade purposes are ethanol plants, ammonia plants, and natural wells. The commercial CO2 supply may shrink whenever ethanol and ammonia plants lower production capacity or if natural reservoirs become contaminated. Supply shocks can impact the contractual agreements of CO2 providers, resulting in unfulfilled deliveries or price increases under force majeure clauses. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a CO2 shortage was experienced throughout the food and beverage supply chain, compelling food processors to write to the federal government for relief and forcing some breweries to shut down entirely. Supply was also impacted by the Jackson Dome reservoir contamination and by European ammonia plants curtailing operations due to high natural gas prices.
With CO2 being a critical component for food and beverage processing, shortages or quality issues can have significant impacts on the industry's ability to produce and distribute products. In addition to supply chain disruptions, food and beverage businesses have also had to navigate quality issues, such as contamination or impurities in CO2 supplies. These challenges have forced many businesses to explore new solutions for sourcing and using CO2, such as implementing on-site CO2 production or using alternative sources of carbonation. By finding innovative solutions to these challenges, food and beverage businesses can improve their resilience and see success in the face of an uncertain and rapidly changing market.
Industry groups like the Brewers Association highlighted the CO2 shortages in the height of the pandemic. According to the chief economist for the Brewers Association, brewers' carbon dioxide costs had spiked more sharply than any other cost as of the fall of 2022. This highlights the importance of implementing sustainable solutions, such as CO2 recovery systems, to reduce reliance on external suppliers and ensure a stable supply of CO2 for breweries and other businesses.
Some businesses have reported spending upwards of $100,000 to expedite a one day supply of CO2 to keep production lines going. Fuel cell CO2 recovery systems can help businesses produce their own CO2 and energy. Food and beverage manufacturers can bring the production of CO2 in-house with fuel cells to reduce the ongoing cost of a raw production material. Electricity from fuel cells can be used by the facility. The heat generated by the fuel cells can be used for space heating, bottle cleaning, bakery operations, or to feed hot water back into the boilers. Fuel cell systems can also reuse water from their processes to reduce consumption.
By producing CO2 on-site, businesses can reduce their exposure to:
Our interactive Carbon Savings Calculator is available for companies looking to gain greater insight into how the CO2 produced by their operation across Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions can be recycled and used in their business. This approach provides an alternative to purchasing CO2, often times from much more pollution-intensive sources such as ethanol facilities, as many businesses do today. It can also help avoid the business risk of rapidly rising CO2 prices and scarcity of supply.
To learn how much you can save by recycling carbon dioxide, try our savings calculator today.
While traditional amine systems consume energy and water, fuel cell systems can be net producers of electricity, heat, and water during the CO2 capture process. Fuel cells separate carbon as part of the electrochemical reaction that produces power. The electricity can be delivered to the grid or used by the hosting facility for on-site loads. Amine carbon capture systems require heat and power to operate. This is because the process involves capturing, separating, and regenerating the amine solution, which consumes a considerable amount of energy. The high energy demand can increase operational costs and reduce the overall efficiency of the system.
The co-production of power while capturing carbon is a key differentiator of the carbonate fuel cell approach compared to other types of carbon capture, which consume power or other forms of energy. This can drive a significant economic benefit through the value of the power as a revenue stream, which reduces the effective cost of CO2 capture. This is illustrated by the following figure, which summarizes a cost study performed during a DOE project evaluating carbonate based carbon capture from coal-fired power generation systems.
Implementing amine carbon capture systems requires significant infrastructure and space. The equipment and facilities needed for capturing, storing, and processing CO2 can be extensive, making it challenging to integrate them into existing industrial plants. This can lead to higher costs and logistical difficulties in retrofitting older facilities. For many industrial and commercial applications and smaller-scale emissions sources, an amine solution may not be economically feasible due to the high costs associated with infrastructure, energy, and maintenance.
Fuel cells can be scaled up or down to meet the specific needs of a particular application, without requiring the large and complex infrastructure needed for amine technology. One of FuelCell Energy's CO2 Recovery Systems can operate on a footprint about the size of two tennis courts. Fuel cell technology offers an attractive option for smaller applications where efficiency is key.
FuelCell Energy and Toyota recently announced the completion of a Tri-gen system at the Port of Long Beach in California. Tri-gen produces electricity, hydrogen, and water from renewable biogas. The 2.3 megawatts of renewable electricity is used by Toyota Logistic Services (TLS) Long Beach to support its operations at the port. The system can also produce up to 1,200 kg/day of hydrogen which will provide for TLS Long Beach's fueling needs for its incoming light-duty fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) Mirai, while also supplying hydrogen to the nearby heavy-duty hydrogen refueling station.
Up to 1,400 gallons of water will be co-produced per day from Tri-gen's hydrogen production process and will be used by TLS Long Beach for car wash operations. This will help decrease the use of constrained local water supplies by approximately half a million gallons per year.
Pepperidge Farm's cutting-edge bakery plant located in Bloomfield, Connecticut is largely powered by FuelCell Energy's platforms. The 260,000-square-foot factory operates on a 24-hour basis and exclusively depends on the fuel cell system for its on-site power supply. The bakery operations are supported by the heat generated from the fuel cell plant, resulting in a reduced fuel requirement for plant boilers.
FuelCell Energy installed a 5.6 MW fuel cell system to power Pfizer's 160-acre research and development facility in Groton, Connecticut. Under a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA), Pfizer agreed to purchase power and steam from FuelCell Energy for 20 years. The installation forms part of a combined heat and power (CHP) system that runs parallel with the grid and provides standby power in case of outages.
Fuel cells electrochemically react fuel and air to create power, without combustion. Other energy-generation processes combust methane, emitting nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (SOx), and particulate matter emissions, which can lead to smog, acid rain, and respiratory issues. The electrochemical reaction in fuel cells is virtually free of these harmful emissions. Even if a nonrenewable fuel is used to power a fuel cell, there are still significant environmental benefits to its electrochemical method of operation.
By producing cleaner on-site power, fuel cells can reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions while establishing predictable energy costs. The carbon intensity of operations can be further reduced in applications like combined heat and power (CHP), CO2 recovery, and boiler CO2 capture. Businesses producing on-site CO2 with fuel cells may also reduce Scope 3 emissions by decreasing the logistic and diesel truck trip emissions associated with deliveries.
NOx gases contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain. Since there is no burning of the fuel source during the fuel cell’s electrochemical process, air emissions are minimal and much lower than combustion systems. FuelCell Energy’s carbon capture method pulls CO2 from the air stream (where it is difficult to separate) and concentrates it in the anode (where it is easy to separate). If there are nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the flue gas, more than 70 percent is destroyed as the stream passes through the air electrode channels. Businesses looking to reduce their NOx emissions can take advantage of fuel cell technology.
Traditional power plants using internal combustion engines have significant permitting issues due to their emissions and noise impacts, which can make permitting both expensive and difficult to obtain. FuelCell Energy’s power plants have received key certifications under the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) distributed generation standards, allowing the local air quality management districts in California to exempt the fuel cell installation from the clean air permitting process, which accelerates the approval process.
FuelCell Energy has a proven track record of delivering hundreds of megawatts of projects around the world. We tailor solutions to meet our client's dynamic energy needs while taking balance sheet considerations into account. Our customers can choose between owning the platform outright or balance sheet-light energy service contracts. FuelCell Energy’s highly skilled staff monitors our platforms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We bring more than 50 years of experience and a network of industry partners to help you navigate the new energy landscape.