Cutaway view of Panasonic's new residential fuel cell system slated for mass-production
Cutaway view of Panasonic's new residential fuel cell system slated for mass-production
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Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd announced April 14, 2008, that it will start mass-producing its new residential fuel cell system.

Through the enhancement of natural gas reformer efficiency and the improvement of operational stability as well as the adoption of a new inverter, the maximum power generation efficiency of the latest fuel cell system has been enhanced to 39% (based on LHV: the same applies below).

"It is the world's highest power efficiency for a residential polymer electrolyte fuel cell system," the company said.

Assuming the service period of 10 years, the system ensures the durability for 40,000 hours by the improvement of fluorinated polymer electrolyte membrane. With a view to launching volume production in June 2008, a trial mass-production run is now underway at the company's new plant in Kusatsu, Japan.

The rated output of the new system is as same as that of the existing model, 1kW. The new system enables part-load operation at 300W or higher. Although the highest power efficiency of 39% can be achieved at an output of 750W, the efficiency of 38% can be maintained at 500W-1kW.

In the existing model, the efficiency was decreased by approximately 4% at an output of 500W, for example. The new inverter made a significant contribution to maintaining the power generation efficiency under part-load operation.

The main unit measures 780 (W) x 400 (D) x 860mm (H). The footprint including that of the hot water storage unit is 2.8m2, which is 30% smaller than that of the existing model.

Panasonic expects to sell 3,000-5,000 units in fiscal 2010 and 60,000-100,000 units in fiscal 2015. The company forecasts that the sales of residential fuel cell systems in Japan will reach 300,000 units in fiscal 2015, and aims to gain a 20-33% share. In line with the increase in sales, the company intends to greatly reduce the production cost to ¥1.2 million (US$11,867) in fiscal 2010 and to ¥600,000 in fiscal 2015.

Presently, "large-scale demonstration of stationary fuel cell" is promoted by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for the development of residential fuel cells. Under this project, METI will grant ¥2.2 million per unit in fiscal 2008. The demonstration is scheduled to end in fiscal 2008 and a new program will be implemented to provide a subsidy to households that purchase a commercialized fuel cell system.

The amount of subsidy per unit is likely to be lower than the existing amount of ¥2.2 million. It seems that Panasonic has the lead over competitors, as it is already begun the process of performing demonstrations, shifting to commercialization and launching the product.

In addition to the new inverter, the improvement of natural gas reformer significantly helped to increase the power generation efficiency of the latest model. The company enhanced the reforming efficiency by integrating the reforming unit, the selective oxidation unit and the transforming unit, which are separated in the existing reformer.

Because the company thoroughly analyzed the functions of each of the units before integrating them into a unitary component, the new reformer not just provides a higher reforming efficiency but also ensures a higher flexibility to handle the variation in "ratio between natural gas and water vapor" and "fuel/air excess ratio." As a result, the stable operation region is increased by 1.7 times versus the existing model.

The reduction rate of the fuel, natural gas, reaches 22%, which is 41 points higher. The reduction rate of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is of the most importance, is 12% on average for all types of power sources and 37% on average for thermal power generation systems.