Yale to use new eco-friendly energy cell



Yale will become the first university in the United States to get electricity from a high-efficiency fuel cell.

The $1.25 million installation at the Environmental Sciences Building, funded by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, will provide 25 percent of the building’s electricity. The building will use the heat generated by the fuel cell to preserve bones and artifacts kept in the building.

Installation is slated for this summer.

Robert Culver, University vice president for finance and administration, said in a press release that Yale is pleased to work with Danbury-based FuelCell Energy, Inc., the company that will install the fuel cell, to develop cleaner energy sources.

“The clean and efficient operating characteristics of fuel cell technology fit in well with Yale’s overall energy goals,” Culver said.

Fuel cells can generate more electrical power from less fuel than traditional power sources. The cells do not burn fuel and therefore do not create pollution as fossil fuel energy sources do. And in a high-efficiency model such as Yale’s, the required hydrogen is generated in the module itself, rather than in a separate piece of equipment, as in lower-efficiency models.

The model Yale will install can operate on many different kinds of fuel. If wastewater treatment gas is used in the cells — as opposed to natural gas — the fuel cells would be a renewable source of energy.

The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund purchased the unit — known as a DFC300A — last year, and chose the Yale site in December.

Dana Young, a staff attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said she thinks the installation is good news for New Haven’s “deteriorated” air quality.

“Connecticut is on the cutting edge of fuel cell technology,” Young said. “It’s a nice example of how Yale has used the resources out there.”

The fuel cell, a “big rectangular box” with dimensions similar to the back of a tractor-trailer, will be installed outside of the building and will be connected to the building’s electrical system, FuelCell Energy spokesman Bill Baker said.

Director of Investor Relations Steve Eschbach said FuelCell Energy is working to provide units for hospitals and universities in addition to commercial and industrial facilities.

“This was an excellent application for our fuel cell,” Eschbach said.

Because the technology for high-efficiency fuel cells is new, the costs are higher than for normal electricity providers. But Eschbach said FuelCell Energy hopes that Yale will ask for more such installations in the future because the fuel cell is a clean, efficient energy source.

“I would look at this as you would any new technology,” Eschbach said. “Our technology is fairly new; right now we have high costs and low volume. [But] we are always interested in adding new units.”

Baker said there are additional benefits to using fuel cell technology. In addition to being more efficient and cleaner than fossil fuel energy, the fuel cells are much smaller than a traditional power plant.

“Fuel cells are not only clean — but they’re very quiet,” Baker said. “It’s just a box that sits there. So you can stick it in the middle of a city.”

While fuel cells themselves have been around since the 1840s, the technology was not developed until after the advent of the internal combustion engine. But in the 1960s, NASA used the cells as a fuel source for the Gemini space mission.

FuelCell Energy — founded in 1970 — has been developing fuel cell technology since the late 1980s, Baker said.

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