Fuel Cell Demonstration Project

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UC Santa Barbara is now host to a unique new energy system that is providing electricity as part of the university’s commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability. The project is a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara and Southern California Edison (SCE) as part of a statewide alternative energy initiative, to demonstrate fuel cell generation technology. Constructed, operated, and maintained by SCE, the fuel cell power plant consists of a 200 kilowatt (kW) fuel cell system manufactured by Bloom Energy, known as a Bloom Energy Server. The Bloom Energy Server utilizes a unique technology, which converts fuel into electricity via an electrochemical process, without combustion, minimizing the release of harmful, smog-forming particulates. The power generated by the fuel cell is delivered directly to SCE’s 16 kilovolt (kV) local distribution grid that serves both UC Santa Barbara and the local community.

fuel cell UC Santa Barbara is a leader in advanced energy efficiency research. Developing next-generation materials and technologies that will power our future is a point of pride for UC Santa Barbara and the fuel cell partnership with SCE and Bloom Energy provides an opportunity to evaluate an emerging power generation technology.

What is a Fuel Cell?

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts chemical energy from a fuel into electric energy using an electrochemical reaction rather than a combustion process. Electric power is generated from the reaction between a fuel supply (natural gas or another source) and an oxidizing agent (typically air).

Fuel cells require hydrogen as the fuel source. However, due to the absence of a well-established hydrogen infrastructure, most fuel cells are designed to produce hydrogen internally from a readily available fuel source such as natural gas or a renewable biogas. Similarly, fuel cells are designed to produce oxygen internally by extracting it from air. Both the hydrogen and oxygen are used in the electrochemical reaction to produce electricity, with heat, water, and negligible amounts of carbon dioxide as byproducts.

fuel cell A fuel cell is similar to a battery in some respects in that electrical energy is created by an electrochemical process. However, unlike a battery, which only has a discrete quantity of chemical reactants stored inside the device to create electrical energy, a fuel cell operates with a continuous stream of resources (the hydrogen and oxygen). As long as there is fuel and air, the fuel cell will continue to convert the energy in the fuel to electricity. Thus the benefit of a fuel cell is that it does not require recharging like a battery. Another advantage to fuel cells is that they require very few moving parts, which are typically limited to air blowers and fuel/water pumps. Fuel cells produce direct current (DC) electricity and since the conversion of the fuel to energy takes place via an electrochemical reaction, not combustion, the process is highly efficient, clean, releasing less pollutants than that normally associated with the combustion process.

UCSB's Fuel Cell

UC Santa Barbara is now host to a unique new energy system that is providing electricity as part of the university's commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability. The new 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Server is directly connected to Southern California Edison's electric distribution system. The Bloom Energy Server produces clean, reliable, and affordable electricity on-site. The system utilizes a unique fuel cell technology, which converts fuel into electricity via an electro-chemical process, without any combustion or harmful, smog-forming particulates. fuel cell

The new server generates power 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is expected to produce more than 1.75 million kilowatt hours annually, enough to power about 160 average U.S. homes. The system is extremely efficient, cutting carbon emissions by almost 30 percent, nearly eliminating nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution, and producing electricity using 99.99 percent less water than an average power plant. Click here to learn more about how solid oxide fuel cells work.

UC Santa Barbara is a leader in advanced energy efficiency research. Developing next-generation materials and technologies that will power our future is a point of pride for UCSB, and the fuel cell project partnership with Southern California Edison and Bloom Energy provides an opportunity to evaluate an emerging power generation technology.

Electric Power Generation

The power generated is connected via a transformer directly to SCE’s local electrical distribution grid contributing clean energy to SCE’s customers. Electricity is produced from the fuel cell 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is expected to produce more than 1.75 million kilowatts hours (kWh) annually, enough to power about 160 average U.S. homes. The Bloom Energy Server operates very clean, emitting almost 30 percent less carbon emissions than a traditional natural gas fired power plant. Additionally, only negligible amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) are emitted and certain kinds of particulates (PM10) are reduced with the use of a Bloom Energy Server. The Bloom Energy technology uses no water beyond a 240-gallon injection at start-up. By comparison, the average U.S. gas or coal fired power plant uses several hundred thousands of gallons of water annually per 200 kW.