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TRI-GENERATION—A NEXT STEP IN ENERGY EFFICIENCY

THE UNIVERSITY OF California, Irvine is at the forefront of tri-generation, advanced technology that transforms human waste into hydrogen, electricity, and heat. In many ways, this is a 21st-century version of cogeneration, a power station simultaneously providing electricity as well as useable heat. The bio waste aspect brings sanitation infrastructure into the realm of energy production. The resulting hydrogen has application in everything from fuel-cell vehicles to efficient storage of renewably produced electricity.


UCI is the home of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, established in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Energy and California Energy Commission. NFCRC’s goal continues to be the development and implementation of power generation that’s both energy efficient and environmentally sensitive.

Options of energy production. Local tri-generation employing a fuel cell offers high efficiency and low emissions, while avoiding the energy and emission penalties of traditional methods. This and other images from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The following tidbits are gleaned from several sources, principally the annual report of UCI Advanced Power and Energy Program’s Bridging: Engineering Science to Practical Application, Vol. 6 2018, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Bridging: Engineering Science to Practical Application, Advanced Power and Energy Program, UCI, 2018.

Fuel Cell Efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in terms of energy produced versus energy expended, efficiency of a hydrogen molten carbonate fuel cell is 50 percent. With the heat of fuel cell operation captured as well, its efficiency rises to 85-90 percent.

By contrast, according to the worldcoal.com, efficiency of a coal-fired power plant is 33 percent with goals of rising to 40 percent. Though not directly comparable, on a tank-to-wheel basis, a typical gasoline engine is about 25-percent efficient; a diesel, perhaps 35 percent.

Fuel Cell Emissions. A fuel cell’s emissions are also in its favor: nothing but heat and the purest of water. Capturing this heat has many possible benefits, for example, supplying pure hot water for industrial or domestic use.

A Technology First. The idea of deriving hydrogen, electricity, and heat from bio waste was conceived at UCI’s NFCRC in 2002, with involvement of Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and FuelCell Energy Inc.

An anaerobic digester gas fuel (e.g., from bio waste) is sent to a molten carbonate fuel cell. Electricity, hydrogen, heat, and water are produced.

A Demonstration First. In 2011, the first real-world tri-generation was demonstrated with a stationary fuel cell deployed at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley, California. Funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy, California Air Resources Board, South Coast Air Quality Management District, and Southern California Gas Company.

Fountain Valley tri-generation demonstration facility, in operation 2011-2015.

Demonstrated for four years, each day the fuel cell produced 300 kilowatts of electricity for the facility’s operation, heat for use in its digester system, and 120 kilograms of hydrogen, enough to fill an average 30 fuel cell vehicles.

Commercial Deployment. Success of the Fountain Valley demonstration led to the next step: an announcement in November 2017 by Toyota Motor North America and FuelCell Energy Inc. to build a full-scale Tri-Gen facility using bio waste from California agriculture to generate hydrogen, heat, and electricity.

The facility, to be operational in 2020, is located in the Port of Long Beach. It will have daily generation of approximately 2.35 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 2350 average-size homes, and 1200 kilograms of hydrogen.

The Tri-Gen’s hydrogen will provide fuel for Toyota fuel cell vehicles operating at the port, including heavy-duty trucking. Its electricity will support port operations, as will its heat, with hot water washing vehicles arriving at the port.

It’s the 21st-century energy-production analog of making use of everything including the oink. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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