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From the outside they simply look like large metal boxes about the size of a trailer, but new fuel cell energy plants are now offering a cleaner and more efficient energy alternative in Japan, Europe and across the United States, including at Yale.

Yesterday afternoon, a crowd of more than 100 people attended a ceremony for the dedication of Connecticut’s first Fuel Cell Power Plant. The installation and development of the plant is the result of a group effort among the state of Connecticut, Fuel Cell Energy Inc., the city of New Haven and Yale University. It is located behind the Peabody Museum, right next to Dinosaur Hall, and has been powering the surrounding area for over a month now.

Governor John Rowland said the location of the plant is both “ironic and historic.”

“We have dinosaurs in one room and fuel cells right next door,” Rowland said. “It reminds us of the historical significance of partnerships and working together.”

The fuel cell, which runs on natural gas and water, uses an electrochemical reaction to convert the gas to heat. By substituting fossil fuels, the new fuel cell plants will be two to three times more efficient than regular power plants, said Jerry Leitman, CEO of Fuel Cell Energy Inc.

“It’s good for Connecticut as well as for the country,” Leitman said.

In addition to increasing efficiency, the fuel cell plant will cut the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in half and drastically reduce the release of other pollutants.

“There are 21,000 school children in New Haven, 4,000 of which have asthma, and it’s great to have something that is going to clean our air,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

While Fuel Cell Energy Inc. has installed many plants in recent years, this project is the first one that received significant funding from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.

“We feel that the best opportunity for clean and reliable energy is the fuel cell,” Arthur Diedrick, chairman of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund Advisory Committee, said.

With five major fuel cell companies located in Connecticut and more than $300 million of fuel cell energy and products being exported from the state, Rowland described Connecticut as the “fuel cell capital.”

In addition to providing clean and efficient energy, many of the speakers described the installation of the fuel cell as an educational opportunity as well.

“The educational as much as the technological component is central to the development of the fuel cell,” Diedrick said.

Yale President Richard Levin emphasized the need to support the study of environmental sciences and policies. The fuel cell, Levin said, is a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership in both conserving energy and educating the public.

“It is important that the citizens of the future understand how to care for the environment,” Levin said.

While the fuel cell offers an environmentally useful energy solution locally, Henry Lowendorf, associate director of cooperative research, said it would be better if the interest in environmental problems could be expanded on a national scale.

“It is nice that we have some concern about energy on the local level, even if we have a lack of leadership on the national level,” Lowendorf said.

As energy becomes an increasingly important issue, many are optimistic that the fuel cell offers a viable alternative.

“Our quality of life here is dependent upon energy,” Rowland said. “The fuel cell will contribute to the future we want to build for our children.”
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