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From Poop to Power: Huge, Biogas-Fed Fuel Cell System Starts Operations in California

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October 17, 2012

From Poop to Power: Huge, Biogas-Fed Fuel Cell System Starts Operations in California

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor


A 2.8-megawatt carbon-neutral stationery fuel cell power plant—the world’s largest, according to designer and manufacturer FuelCell Energy, Inc., based in Danbury Connecticut—has started operation at a municipal water treatment facility in California. The power plant uses renewable biogas as a fuel source.

FuelCell Energy, Inc. previously announced the sale of the Direct Fuel Cell 3000 (DFC3000) power plant to Anaergia, Inc., a Burlington, Ontario-based firm that finances, develops, and operates projects that generate energy from biogas. The Canadian company’s solutions are based on advanced anaerobic digestion technologies, which create value from untapped liquid and solid organic waste streams—converting biogas to renewable electricity or natural gas for facility operations, vehicle fleet fuel or power grid feed.

Image via Shutterstock

Under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), Anaergia will continue to operate the plant, but will sell the electricity and heat it generates to Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s Water Recycling Plant in Chino, California—where it is enabling IEUA to implement its renewable energy program and remove a significant risk factor regarding compliance with any future changes to clean air regulations.

The power plant represents an integral and unique on-site fuel cell application to convert biogas, a harmful greenhouse gas, into electricity and usable high-quality, high-efficiency heat in a carbon-neutral fashion that emits virtually no pollutants. IEUA is prohibited from releasing the biogas generated by the wastewater treatment process directly into the atmosphere as it is a harmful greenhouse gas. Flaring the biogas emits pollutants and wastes a potential source of revenue. Using the biogas as a fuel source to generate power converts a waste disposal problem into a revenue stream. Due to the renewable nature of biogas, the power generated by the fuel cell is carbon-neutral.

DFC plants can be located where biogas is generated and directly use the biogas with only minimal cleaning of the gas. Biogas contains humidity, sulfur and CO2.Prior to being used as a fuel source for the Direct FuelCell, the humidity and sulfur must be removed, but the DFC technology does not require the removal of the CO2. This is a cost advantage, as pipeline-quality biogas, also termed “directed biogas,” must have the CO2 removed prior to being injected in the gas pipeline, which is an energy-intensive process and adds cost.

 The RP-1 Water Recycling Facility, which can treat up to 44 million gallons a day of wastewater, purchases base-load power from Anaergia to offset approximately 60 percent of the grid power previously used by the facility to treat wastewater. This provides a reliable power source at predefined and competitively priced rates that generate long term cost savings.

“IEUA is proud to expand its already successful renewable energy program with the addition of a biogas powered fuel cell system” said Terry Catlin, president of the IEUA board of directors. “The fuel cell allows IEUA to move closer to its strategic energy plan goal to go Gridless by 2020, with almost no capital outlay by the agency,” said Catlin. “Our plan is to minimize IEUA’s dependency on energy purchased from the grid, and to be able to operate completely off the grid during peak energy usage periods.”

“This stationary fuel cell project that uses a renewable fuel source to generate clean power is helping the State of California reach our aggressive renewable portfolio standards," said Michael Peevey, president, California Public Utilities Commission, adding, "This project illustrates how public/private partnerships are a great model for providing public benefits with private capital."

Thomas Love, general manager, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, commented, “This fuel cell project, combined with our existing solar and wind installations, is helping us achieve [our renewable energy] goals."

"This 2.8 megawatt fuel cell power plant is the world's largest power plant operating on renewable on-site biogas. Our fuel cell technology is uniquely positioned to provide what other megawatt-class power generation products can't, which is efficiently converting biogas into continuous power right where the biogas is generated and in a manner that is virtually absent of pollutants," said Chip Bottone, president and CEO, FuelCell Energy, Inc. "This project is a win for everyone involved, particularly the citizens of California, [who] benefit from privately financed carbon-neutral power generation."

Reliable on-site power generation from fuel cells combined with the credit profile of municipalities attracts private capital to fuel cell projects. Anaergia partially funded the purchase of the fuel cell power plant located at IEUA through the issuance of California Municipal Finance Authority Revenue Bonds

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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