Power Electronics

Data Points

U.S. Commercial Fuel Cell Demand to Grow Nearly Sixfold through 2012

U.S. commercial fuel cell demand, which accounted for less than 10% of total spending in 2007, is forecast to expand almost sixfold to $975 million through 2012, according to a recent study by The Freedonia Group. The Cleveland-based industry research firm further predicts U.S. demand will reach $3.3 billion in 2017, when it will represent half of all fuel cell spending.

According to the new “Fuel Cell” study, total U.S. fuel cell spending — consisting of research and development funding, investment in fuel cell enterprises, revenues associated with prototyping and test marketing, and demand for fuel cell systems, associated products and services — is expected to reach $3.7 billion in 2012. Prospects for fuel cells vary by market, with success being dependent on how well fuel cells stack up against other potential energy sources. The market research firm estimates that, among the six main fuel cell chemistries, the market for direct methanol fuel cells is expected to advance at the most rapid pace through 2012.

The Freedonia Group also predicts that electric-power generation, the largest market for fuel cells, is expected to rise more than 40% annually to $450 million in 2012. This market will continue to comprise almost half of commercial demand in 2012, as molten carbonate fuel cells and solid-oxide fuel cells continue to become more cost efficient, reports the study.

The market for fuel cells used to power portable electronic devices is expected to advance at the most rapid pace through 2012, as technological advancements have enabled these fuel cells to outperform most types of batteries used for similar purposes, finds The Freedonia Group. However, according to the company, the motor vehicle market for fuel cells is expected to grow at a below-average pace, as cost barriers (such as high-priced platinum catalysts) continue to delay widespread commercialization. One reason for this, according to the study, is that fuel cell-powered vehicles are likely to face increasing competition from all-electric vehicles. However, says The Freedonia Group, by 2017, fuel cell-powered vehicles are expected to expand their market presence, as ongoing developmental work will ultimately drive down costs.

DOT Approves Passenger Transport of Methanol Fuel Cells Aboard Airplanes

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final ruling that permits passengers and crews to carry methanol fuel cell cartridges and systems designed for portable electronic devices on board airplanes and in carry-on baggage.

The ruling goes into effect Oct. 1, 2008, although voluntary compliance with the ruling may commence as of May 30, 2008. Passengers will be permitted to carry approved fuel cells and up to two spare fuel cell cartridges in their carry-on baggage.

“The Department of Transportation removed the final barrier to transporting methanol fuel cells on board airplanes,” said Gregory Dolan, Methanol Institute's vice president for communications and policy. “Methanol and fuel cell industry leaders like MTI Micro, which have been working with international transportation regulators for several years to achieve this result, now have a clear endorsement that methanol fuel cell systems and fuel cell cartridges meet the world's most rigorous safety standards.”

The ruling harmonizes U.S. transportation regulations with global regulations adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2007. The Department of Transportation now joins agencies from several countries around the world, including Canada, China, Japan and the United Kingdom, that have incorporated the passenger allowance into their national standards.

“This is an important step in the commercialization process of our Mobion off-the-grid portable power solutions. We intend to commercialize our products in 2009 in accordance with the guidelines in the Department of Transportation ruling,” said Peng Lim, CEO of MTI MicroFuel Cells. “This ruling supports our timeline for commercialization and validates our long-standing choice of methanol as a fuel.”

KEMA and Dutch ECN Open Joint Power Electronics Laboratory

KEMA (Burlington, Mass.) and the Dutch Ministry for Economic Affairs (ECN) have opened a state-of-the-art laboratory in the Netherlands to research and test advanced power electronics for use in electric transmission and distribution grids. As the global electric utility industry works to create sustainable, secure and reliable power grids for the future, effective implementation will require harnessing new and emerging power electronics technology and components, according to KEMA, a global provider of business and technical consulting, operational support, measurement and inspection, testing and certification for the energy and utility industry.

KEMA believes that, while rarely used in existing power grids, power electronics ultimately will be needed to interconnect large amounts of distributed sources of electricity such as wind and solar and to implement smarter, more reliable and secure electric energy networks.

Power electronics generally include technology that facilitates efficient conversion, control and conditioning of electric power supply. Smart power electronic components can sense voltage and make automatic adjustments, enhancing the control and management of power flows.

“U.S. and global utilities are in the early stages of an extensive infrastructure build out of new power electronics and energy-conversion technologies at both the transmission and distribution system levels,” said Dr. Gregory Reed, KEMA's senior vice president. “We're seeing unprecedented numbers of project applications for flexible ac transmission systems and high-voltage dc technologies, power-quality solutions and various energy-storage project demonstrations.”

The newly opened Flex Power Grid Laboratory is an advanced research and testing facility designed specifically to test a wide range of power electronics. At the heart of the lab is a programmable converter that allows for testing equipment continuously at industrial medium voltages, 10 times higher than at any other existing laboratory worldwide. In addition to housing a wide range of capacitors, resistors and reactors as loads, the facility's intelligent control equipment makes the lab unique. This means that a live representation of a real grid can be built with real components and with all of the features against which to test the components. By testing components under complex, realistic conditions, the lab enables component manufacturers and grid operators to be confident that components will work when put into operation.

The lab also will help increase the understanding and development of effective approaches to transporting and storing sustainable generation-based electricity. Businesses and universities can research and test how to improve power electronics to prevent electricity network disruptions with, for example, the addition of distributed and sustainable energy. This data, in particular, will enable industry stakeholders and researchers to develop the components needed to build and sustain the future power grid.

Online Feature Presents Tutorial on SMPS Design

For engineers who are taking their first steps in switch-mode power-supply (SMPS) design, an exclusive tutorial at www.powerelectronics.com explains the essential concepts underlying SMPS operation and provides guidance on how to start a new design. “Switch-Mode Power Supplies for Beginners: An Efficiency Primer” is a two-part series by Daniel Wagner and Roger M. Kenyon of Maxim Integrated Products.

In part one, the authors discuss the inefficiencies incurred by the MOSFET and the diode in a generic SMPS. Then in part two, the authors examine the losses associated with the passive components and explain how features within controller ICs can be used to optimize efficiency. Part one will be posted to www.powerelectronics.com by May 14; part two, by May 28.

LED Backlight Choices Demand Different Driver Designs

Having achieved widespread success in handheld products, LEDs are now being used to backlight the LCD displays in larger equipment such as computer monitors and televisions. In these applications, there are two approaches to using LEDs as backlights. The backlights can be constructed with either white LEDs or RGB LEDs. Though the choice of LED options may be dictated by design goals for the display, designers also need to be aware that the choice of RGB or white LEDs also impacts the design of the LED driver circuits.

In an online exclusive at www.powerelectronics.com, Tomi Koskela, applications engineer at National Semiconductor, explains how the driver design for LED backlights depends on the choice of RGB or white LEDs, LCD display size, color reproduction, power efficiency and system cost.

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