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Panasonic touts 'world's most efficient' domestic fuel cell

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Panasonic has begun pitching fuel-cell technology as a new way to provide homes with electricity and cut their consumption of mains-sourced power.

The company also known as Matsushita said today it will put a home-use polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) system into production in June. It claimed the power pack can run for 40,000 hours and 4,000 start-stop cycles - enough for a ten-year operational lifespan.

The PEFC works in the usual way: hydrogen from the fuel and oxygen from the air combine across a pair of electrodes separated by an electrolyte. The electrolyte forces electrons produced by the reacting hydrogen and oxygen to travel around a circuit as a current. The process also generates heat and water.

Panasonic said its PEFC system has, running flat out, a power generation efficiency of 39 per cent - the world's highest for this technology, it claimed. The cell has a heat recovery efficiency of 55 per cent.

Panasonic home-use fuel-cell

Panasonic's PEFC: coming to homes in 2010

It envisages its PEFC units being used alongside traditional electricity supplies, cutting a typical (Japanese) household's externally sourced power demand by 22 per cent, yielding a carbon emission reduction of 12 per cent.

Homes using the technology by participating in Panasonic's test programme used the units to generate between 500W and 1kW, the company said. The unit generates an alternating current at 50-60Hz, producing 100-200V.

The 86 x 78 x 40cm units weigh 125kg and have a fuel capacity of 200l.

PEFCs you can buy are still some years away. Panasonic has been testing its PEFC system since 2005, but it now wants to put the fuel cells into production in time for further field tests due to take place later this year.

However, even Panasonic doesn't expect to begin full-scale commercialisation of the technology until the 2009-2010 timeframe.

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