Switzerland's first-ever fuel cell heating units from Sulzer Hexis comes to Olten

For the owners of a new single-family dwelling in Olten, generating their electricity and heat from a fuel cell is no longer a utopian vision. Aare Energie AG (a.en) has just installed a Hexis HXS 1000 PREMIERE fuel cell heating unit supplied by the Sulzer company. This is the first unit to be shipped in Switzerland under the terms of a recent marketing agreement between Sulzer Hexis and Gasverbund Mittelland AG.

a.en out in front

Fuel cell technology is one of the most advanced ways to convert fuel - in this case natural gas - into useful electrical and heating energy. It is reckoned to have very attractive market potential. With their high energy efficiency and good CO2 characteristics, fuel cells address environmental concerns and are set to make a considerable contribution to developments in sustainable energy.

Sulzer Hexis fuel-cell heating units comprise the fuel cell proper with 1 kW electrical and 2.5 kW thermal capacity, an integrated gas boiler for meeting peak heating demand, and a hot water storage tank. One such unit is capable of supplying the entire heating and basic electricity needs of a single-family dwelling.

Pioneering spirit in Olten By installing Switzerland's first fuel cell from manufacturer Sulzer Hexis and putting this trend-setting technology to practical use, a.en is both making an innovative statement and gathering the know-how it will need to have the technical skill and be prepared in time for when the technology achieves its expected market breakthrough. Initial plans are to install two units in the basements of interested customers in Olten, for operation under real-world conditions. There has been very high demand for the 30 pre-production units that Sulzer Hexis has earmarked for north-western Switzerland as part of the marketing partnership with Gasverund Mittelland AG; all available units are either reserved or ordered.

Norbert Caspar, executive board chairman of a.en, has been pushing to deploy fuel cell technology in the Olten region for the past two years. It is therefore all the more pleasing to have found the first progressive customers in Anita Rickli und Markus Lack, owners of a single-family dweilling in the new Schürmatt housing development. The fuel cell's requirements and dimensions were given due consideration as early as the planning phase, complete with separate exterior access to the boiler-room. Stefan Gut, operations manager at a.en, underwent training at Sulzer Hexis along with other specialist fitters. He is extremely confident of putting the plant into operation in mid-September, once the supply infrastructure is in place.

The fuel cell heating unit will operate under an energy contracting agreement with the customers, with the energy supplier retaining ownership. Another satisfying aspect is the cantonal subsidy being granted for the initial plants, which helps spread the pioneering expense.

From field trials to production prototypes and mass production Hexis fuel cells have been tested and enhanced since 1998 in a series of six field trials in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. The units that have just shipped are the product of some 85,000 hours' operating experience. Sulzer Hexis is aiming for mass production, which should bring prices down to competitive levels.

Connections between the unit and electrical and heating distribution systems are straightforward. The hot water and natural gas pipe-work is quite conventional, while electrical power is handled in a similar manner to a solar-cell power plant.

Aare Energie AG (a.en)