Fuel cell to power City Hall

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Photo by Earl Lee.

A 66,000-pound fuel cell arrived at Millennium Plaza behind City Hall Sunday morning, bringing the city’s total fuel cell count to five.

The fuel cell will provide the majority of electricity to City Hall and the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St., as well as 60 percent of the heat and 30 percent of cooling for the buildings, said Christine Eppstein Tang, director of the New Haven Office of Sustainability. The fuel cell is expected to save between $500,000 and $1,000,000 throughout its 10-year lease period and reduce the pollution generated by both buildings, said Giovanni Zinn ’05, a consultant employed by the city’s Office of Sustainability.

“We’re really excited to finally have it here,” Eppstein Tang said. “It’s a great achievement for the city.”

Eppstein Tang said the Sustainability Office and engineering department worked with Connecticut-based company UTC Power — the company that manufactured the fuel cell — for the past year to bring the fuel cell to New Haven. She added that the city benefits not only from having the cell but also from the included maintenance contract that states that UTC must fix the cell if it is damaged.

Eppstein Tang said the decision to get a fuel cell was not motivated by government regulation, but made “perfect sense,” as it demonstrates the city’s commitment to renewable energy while reducing costs. Since pollution-reducing technology is likely to change in the future, she added that the sustainability office and the city’s Department of Engineering decided that leasing the fuel cell would be the best course of action.

Initially, officials considered other environmentally friendly and money-saving options such as building a high-efficiency boiler and chiller plant, said Zinn. But, he said, the fuel cell “leapt out immediately” because it saves money, helps the environment and is less disruptive to install. Other advantages of a fuel cell, he added, are its compactness and low emissions and noise levels.

The fuel cell is a combined heat and power fuel cell system generating heat that can be used for space or water heating as well as for driving an absorption chiller to provide cooling, said Jennifer Sager, spokeswoman for UTC Power.

She added that the fuel cell’s ability to utilize the heat byproduct increases its efficiency, and that the PureCell Model 400 system used in City Hall has industry-best system efficiencies of up to 90 percent.

The PureCell Model 400 system also functions without consuming or discharging water in normal operations, she said, resulting in approximately 1.6 million gallons of saved water per year compared to the U.S. electric grid.

Though there are currently no estimates as to how much pollution the fuel cell will reduce, “every little bit helps,” said Zinn. The fuel cell will result in a net reduction of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, said Rich Shaw, UTC Power’s regional sales director.

Due to its downtown location near City Hall, the fuel cell can also serve an educational purpose, Eppstein Tang said. Once the fuel cell is in operation, she added, signs explaining the cell’s purpose to the public will be put up nearby.

Zinn said he sees the addition of the latest fuel cell as part of a citywide shift towards sustainability.

“New Haven is a leader in renewable technology, and this is continuing the trend,“ he said.

The fuel cell will be operational within the next two months, according to Eppstein Tang.

Comments

  • CharlieWalls

    So, what is the energy source for this cell? How can the author possibly neglect that detail given the common association between fuel cells and hydrogen, as in the ideal type of cell. Is natural gas that commonly available now in New Haven? Or maybe the name is just enough, and the big black box just heats and cools with no input whatsoever?!

  • DaletDaleOfYale

    Bravo Mr Destafano. Now, maybe Yale will start generating steam in the same manner, and drop its coal habit.

  • CharlieWalls

    It seems these devices use methane from natural gas and oxidize it with oxygen from water in a process called ‘external reforming’. The product is hydrogen and CO2, and that hydrogen is then used in the fuel cell with oxygen from the air as you might expect (yielding water). Hence, CO2 is still produced as a byproduct, again, as you might expect. See:
    http://www2.fz-juelich.de/ief/ief-3//fuel_cells/gas_production/natural_gas_reforming/