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You are here: > News > February 5, 2010

TMI's 1 kW fuel cell module for 3rd world deployment runs on wide range of fuels

A modular fuel cell technology can convert just about any fuel into clean electricity using a chemical process.  Technology Management, Inc., of Cleveland, plans to market this distributed energy solution within the developing world where they don't have power, enabling them to grow their own.

This is a breaking story in that the company is now emerging from stealth mode.

by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2010

This 1kW module shown here in this 2007 photo is the present production model.


Last month, I got a call from Benson P. Lee, CEO of Technology Management, Inc (TMI), which is a developer of a fuel cell system that can convert just about any fuel into clean electricity using a chemical process, without modification of the system from one fuel to the next. 

TMI, based in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, has a 1 kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell system and is preparing for field testing with end user applications.  The plug-and-play 1 kW systems are modular, which means they can be configured in multiples when more power or redundancy is required. Each 1 kW system is small enough and light enough to be handled by one person.

The slogan on their website is: "Developing fuel cells for use anywhere, anytime, by anyone."  In addition to the low-hanging-fruit markets, the company has dreams about reaching third world markets.

Lee said TMI is one of about ten fuel cell companies in the world that have a complete system that can run on indigenous fuel (ordinary fuels available to the public) of a size 1 kilowatt or larger. Most of the other ten or so are huge companies like Siemens-Westinghouse and United Technologies. And because they are targeting large or high density markets like utilities or homes, they tend to engineer their cells to use the fuel that is common or most practical to that end user or market.

However, Lee said that TMI's philosophy has been to make the technology more accessible to the little guy and in low density markets, which puts them in rural and remote areas of the world. Hence they intentionally engineered their cells to run on a wide range of indigenous fuels. Their module can run on fuels including methane, syngas, propane, ethanol, digester biogas, JP-8 kerosene, diesel, ammonia, vegetable oils, used cooking oil, corn oil, soybean oil, biodiesel and jatropha.

The flex-fuel feature allows farmers to grow or make their own fuel and use it in the TMI cell to produce electricity at the point of use. "Any farmer can grow and press oils," said Lee. Another application would be running from biogas from an aneerobic digester or cesspool.

In addition to using a wide range of fuels, the fuel cell operates very efficiently and quietly and is so clean it can be run indoors. Diesel generators are noisy and produce lethal carbon monoxide. Solar and wind must be sited outdoors. Thus TMI addresses a security concern in some areas where anything shiny gets stolen. Because it can be run indoors, it is not only more secure, but allows the waste heat to be used for cogeneration applications like cooling and heating, further adding to the high energy efficiency. This makes it ideal for the trucking industry's auxiliary power unit (APU) applications, known as anti-idling, so the truckers don't have to keep their engines running while they are parked.

The company has been operating in stealth mode, and has avoided accepting V.C. money. They are looking for additional funding in portions of no less than Ό million dollars. They've gone through 30 million so far, since 1990 when they launched.

In addition to traditional markets for fuel cell systems, their system design is perfectly positioned for a unique marketing concept to reach high volume that is reminiscent of how cell phones were initially marketed – e.g. a “time-shared” strategy which makes access affordable, giving the product traction. Except the market they are pondering is in the third world – small villages where no power is presently available, and a changing variety of fuel sources. This has been a hard sell to financial people, but Lee is confident that it has merit.

TMI successfully demonstrated its 1kW fuel cell system operating on soybean oil (vegetable oil) to the Board of Directors of the Ohio Soybean Council at their annual meeting on November 27, 2006, in Dublin, OH.

He gives another example back from the days of the mainframe when it was accessed via telephone lines, and people would buy time slices. Lee was involved with a time sharing service bureau that was able to administer those lines with a clever algorithm, enabling them to compete with G.E. and IBM. The key was 24/7 availability -- which is one of the unique features of the TMI fuel cell system. Other than the utility grid, there are no other known sources of 24/7 power which is scalable down to point of use applications.

Granted, a large gas turbine is more efficient than a small one, hence the advantage of having large, centralized power plants and a grid for power distribution. But in the case of the chemical reactions driving their fuel cell, Lee points out that a small fuel cell is just as efficient as a gigantic one. Hence, a 1 kW module makes sense, and has an advantage for providing power village by village, without the need for building a grid to service the third world areas presently without power.

The TMI fuel cells would also be ideal for disaster relief.

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Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Jan. 5, 2010
Last updated February 19, 2010


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