A hydrogen fuel cell system is powering a house in Lye in the UK’s West Midlands, demonstrating how future fuel resources such as hydrogen could shape our energy future.

Utilising such technology could ultimately banish the reliance upon fossil fuels, with the experimental project offering a glimpse of what’s to come.

The Black Country Housing Group (BCHG), in partnership with the University of Birmingham, has installed the experimental hydrogen fuel cell system which is powering the home’s electricity, water and central heating.

The fuel cell unit is housed in a shed in the back garden of one of their newly-built homes in a quiet residential cul-de-sac.

The £2m project has been jointly funded by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It may show that hydrogen – a component of water and one of the earth’s most abundant resources – is a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

The installation uses the natural gas infrastructure. The gas is converted into hydrogen by a reformer and the hydrogen is then used in the fuel cell. In the future, a hydrogen infrastructure – hydrogen piped to individual buildings and residences – could make this type of technology ideal for domestic use.

A fuel cell can produce electricity, heat, and water, producing electricity as long as fuel (hydrogen) is supplied.

For its part, the University of Birmingham is leading the research project to learn more about hydrogen and fuel cells in a domestic context.

A supply chain in the West Midlands is also being established to allow small companies to manufacture components for the growing market in this new technology. The new fuel cell generates 1.5kW of electricity and provides 3 kW of heat suitable for domestic heating and hot water that is transferred to a 600-litre water tank heat store next to the fuel cell.