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The two-year trial is a direct result of Whitbread’s corporate responsibility strategy, ‘Good Together’, which is designed to make the business as sustainable as possible. It’s hoped the trial will be a vital step towards the wider adoption of fuel cells in the UK commercial heating industry. It is also the first UK-based trial under the European Union’s Ene.field scheme, which is contributing 40% of the costs. Baxi and Whitbread are jointly funding the rest.
The Gamma Premio fuel cell - built in Germany at the headquarters of Baxi Innotech - is one of the first two appliances to be trialled under the Ene.field programme, which will eventually monitor 1,000 installations across the whole of Europe.
The unit was installed in Whitbread’s Glastonbury Premier Inn this summer shortly after the world famous music festival.
The hotel opened at the start of 2013 and is heavily occupied throughout the year so was seen as offering ideal trial conditions. It has very high hot water demand – particularly in the morning and evening – amounting to around 3,000 litres per day. The project had to wait for the BBC - who occupied the whole hotel during the music festival - to move out prior to installation.
Whitbread group’s management including Head of Energy & Environment Chris George, is keen to investigate new technologies capable of reducing running costs and carbon emissions associated with hot water production across the company’s large estate.
Whitbread is already working with Baxi Commercial on the development of combined heat and power (CHP) solutions, and Baxi engineers have just completed a full survey of the heating and hot water arrangements at all Whitbread’s 650 premises.
The fuel cell works by extracting hydrogen from the natural gas supply and converting it into water, heat and steam all of which can be used to produce heat and electricity in a process that is almost 96% efficient and reduces the amount of fossil fuel needed to power the heating plant.
At Glastonbury the Baxi unit was installed between the cold mains supply and two existing condensing water heaters together with two buffer vessels. This arrangement means the fuel cell will provide approximately 20% of the total hot water demand of this busy hotel – around 700 litres per day.
The system has been configured to allow the fuel cell to run 24 hours a day, which will maximise its efficiency. It has its own 300-litre storage cylinder, which is heated first, before it moves on to supply the main system’s 500-litre pre-heat cylinder at 60degC. The ‘free’ electricity produced is used within the plant room to run pumps and other ancillary units further reducing the carbon footprint of the building.
The system has now been running for three months showing very promising results.
Pre-commissioning analysis of the hotel and its hot water usage patterns, alongside the first three months operating figures, have led the energy team to predict overall savings of £16,890 over a ten year operating period with CO2 emissions likely to be reduced by 5.8 tonnes per annum.
At the end of the two-year trial the fuel cell and buffer vessel will be de-commissioned and returned to Baxi Innotech for evaluation. The original 500-litre storage vessel will remain in place. Whitbread can then decide if they want to proceed with a permanent fuel cell installation or to replace it with another renewable technology.
“We see a really promising future for this technology,” said Chris George. “The results so far are very encouraging. This trial will allow us to make informed decisions based on our own experience in a fully operational hotel, which is so much more valuable than lab-based testing.”
“I’m really excited about this. I believe we’re the first hospitality company to bring fuel cell technology to the UK. To my knowledge it’s never been trialled in any hotel in the world.
“It’s a bit like combined heat and power, but it’s actually a reverse osmosis system. Our CHP supplied by Baxi Commercial is already playing a key role in our low carbon energy strategy, and we are very hopeful that fuel cells will also have a place in our future.
“Whitbread’s ambition is to lead the UK hospitality industry to become more sustainable. By investing in innovative new technologies such as this fuel cell trial, we are delivering on that as well as demonstrating that significant energy, water and carbon savings can be achieved within the mainstream hospitality market and during periods of rapid expansion.”
Mitesh Panikker, supply chain manager at Whitbread, said “We’re always looking for innovation in the supply chain and next opportunities to reduce our energy and carbon. We wanted to get in as early as possible, and we hope in the long term it may help Baxi Commercial adapt the technology for the hotel environment, and open up opportunities for others to make savings.
“Baxi are members of the ENE group and that presented the opportunity for us to access funding for the trial. We’d like to see more people trialling the technology to see if it can be driven along the process a bit faster.
“More data is needed but so far we are seeing some really good early results. We believe that guests are getting hotter water more quickly. That means that the taps run for less time, meaning we’re wasting less water and using less energy to heat it.
“Our system is connected to Baxi Innotech in Germany who are constantly monitoring and tweaking to improve our efficiency and performance. Eventually we’ll compare their data against air source, ground source and solar energy sources to see which is the most efficient.
“We really value our close and longstanding relationship with Baxi Commercial as it has allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of emerging technologies and their potential.
“I’d really recommend that other hoteliers consider fuel call technology because the cost of adding it to our system was in line with the cost of a regular commercial water heater but the benefits speak for themselves. It fits in front of our existing installation and reduces our reliance on the large water heater but there is zero risk because if it fails the guests will still get hot water.
“We’re really pleased with what we’re seeing so far in terms of energy savings, and we’ve had none of the usual teething problems you often see with new technology.
“Baxi Commercial possesses the values that we look for in all our suppliers. As well as being able to offer us a high level of advice and support, their innovation is able to provide us with cutting-edge technology, helping us in our commitment to reduce our environmental impact and reach our ambitious sustainability goals.”
Baxi Commercial’s business development manager Neville Small comments that site-based trials also allowed the company’s engineers to iron out any practical, operational issues.
“We are extremely grateful to Whitbread for allowing us such open access to their premises. This means we can closely monitor the equipment and fine tune its performance to suit actual demand,” he said. “The future for fuel cells is bright and we are delighted to be at the forefront of this important technological advance.”