Fuel Cell Project Taps Wastewater Methane

A 500 kW fuel cell project will be installed at Santa Barbara’s El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant that will harness methane gas from the anaerobic digesters as the fuel source. FuelCell Energy, Inc. and Alliance Power will partner on the project, with Fuel Cell Energy providing two 250 kW Direct FuelCell (DFC) power plants to supply electric power and heat. The power plants are expected to be delivered and operational in the fourth quarter of 2004.

Danbury, Connecticut – March 10, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] Alliance Power and FuelCell Energy have formed a joint venture, that will sell the electric power and supply heat to the facility under a long-term power purchase agreement – the first of its kind for FuelCell Energy. Alliance Power is the turnkey provider to the project and FuelCell Energy will provide the DFC power plants and operations and maintenance services. The 650-degree Fahrenheit exhaust from the power plants will be used to supplement heating of the anaerobic digesters that create the methane gas for use by the fuel cells. “The cost of electricity purchased by the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant has more than doubled in the past four years, making it economically feasible to use the methane to generate electricity,” said Rebecca Bjork, Wastewater System Manager for the City of Santa Barbara. “This project provides exceptional overall value for the City of Santa Barbara by reducing electricity costs while balancing environmental impact and costs.” Bjork said that in addition to saving money, the waste water plant will substantially reduce air pollution emissions by using the methane gas as the hydrogen source for the fuel cells, rather than simply flaring the gas. They estimate that the project will reduce annual emissions by up to 35,000 pounds of oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) pollutants and 500 tons of carbon dioxide annually by using fuel cells instead of flaring the gas. “These are real and tangible benefits to the ratepayers and residents of Santa Barbara,” Bjork said. Southern California Edison, administrator for The California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Self-Generation Incentive Program for their service territory, has issued a reservation letter that will provide incentive funding of $2.25 million to the combined entity. “This project continues our success in the wastewater treatment market where we now have six installations sited and is a perfect example of how our DFC power plants are ready today to provide an environmentally sound and cost- effective means to generate electricity, ” said Herbert T. Nock, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales of FuelCell Energy. “This project also demonstrates the role that well-funded, multi-year government incentive programs, such as California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program, can play in bringing renewable energy sources to the commercial marketplace to the benefit of ratepayers and the environment.” Industrial and municipal wastewater treatment facilities with anaerobic gas digesters present an important opportunity for the fuel cell power plants. In Fuel Cell Energy’s case, 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 plant. Moreover, wastewater treatment gas is a renewable fuel eligible for government incentive funding for project installations throughout the world. The company has sited five other DFC power plants at wastewater treatment facilities in the U.S. and Japan, including its first one-megawatt DFC1500 in King County, Washington. In a market study conducted in 1998, the company identified over 550 municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the U.S. that are capable of producing enough methane from anaerobic gas digestion to fuel a 250 kWor larger DFC power plant. Furthermore, wastewater treatment plants in California are required to provide onsite backup generation to address the critical functions of these facilities. Fuel cells could serve both continuous and backup generation requirements of these facilities.
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