Treatment Plant Provides Gas for Fuel Cell Power Project

Fuel Cells are a key thrust of the clean and distributed energy industries. Despite their ability to run off renewable energy sources, they often run off natural gas, which while among the “cleaner” fossil fuels, is still a finite fossil fuel, and one that has seen ever-rising costs. That won’t be a problem at a new fuel cell facility in California which will run off gas generated from the facility’s own wastewater processes.

FuelCell Energy, Alliance Power and the City of Santa Barbara announced the dedication of two Direct FuelCell (DFC) power plants at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Facility. The DFC power plants that generate 500 kW of renewable power are now providing electricity and heat for the facility’s wastewater treatment system and are reducing harmful emissions by operating on the methane gas generated from the anaerobic gas digestion process. “This fuel cell project at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Facility has a two-fold positive impact for us – it reduces our energy costs while continuing our commitment to environmental leadership,” said Marty Blum, Mayor of the City of Santa Barbara. “We are pleased that the measurable benefits are now being realized by the ratepayers and residents of Santa Barbara.” Industrial and municipal wastewater treatment facilities with anaerobic gas digesters present an important opportunity for FuelCell Energy. The methane generated from the anaerobic gas digestion process is used as fuel for the Company’s DFC power plants, which in turn generates the electricity to operate wastewater treatment equipment at the facility. Moreover, wastewater treatment gas is a renewable fuel eligible for government incentive funding for project installations throughout the world. The Company has announced seven other global wastewater treatment customers for its DFC power plants, including its first one-megawatt DFC1500 power plant in Washington State at King County and three other California sitings (Terminal Island for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Palmdale Water Reclamation Plant for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.). In a January 2000 study by the prepared by Onsite Sycom Energy Corp. for the U.S. Department of Energy, there is over 100 MW of combined heat and power application potential in California. The Mayor received a Certificate of Recognition for its Environmental Stewardship from California Assemblymember Pedro Nava of the State’s 35th District. Caroline Vance, Santa Barbara Field Representative, made the presentation. “The rising cost of electricity prompted us to explore more cost effective alternatives for energy at the El Estero plant,” said Tony Nisich, Public Works Director for the City of Santa Barbara. “This project provides exceptional overall value for the City of Santa Barbara. In addition to saving money, we will substantially reduce air pollution emissions by using the methane gas as the hydrogen source for the fuel cells.” The reduction of harmful emissions is projected to be significant. Each year, Nisich estimated nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide would be reduced by 35,000 pounds and 500 tons, respectively, by using fuel cells instead of flaring the methane gas. The project will mark Fuel Cell Energy’s eight digester gas application. Stephen R. Torres, Western Region Vice President of Marketing and Sales of FuelCell Energy said it also shows the role that strong government incentive programs such as the Self Generation Incentive Program in California can play in bringing renewable energy sources to the commercial marketplace.
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