When waste sits in holding tanks, it produces gases, primarily methane. Most of the methane at Orange County’s plant is filtered and used for power, with surplus sold or burned off into the atmosphere. Now the extra methane will be converted to hydrogen on-site with a unique fuel-cell generator.
Fuel cells are like giant batteries. The generator will use chemical catalysts to split hydrogen atoms off each methane molecule. Much of the hydrogen will then be converted to 300 kilowatts of electricity. The rest will be siphoned off for use in automobiles equipped with smaller fuel cells, which convert it to electricity to run the engine, with no dangerous emissions.
The station was designed by UCI; FuelCell Energy Inc., which makes pollution-free power plants; and Air Products & Chemicals Inc., the biggest U.S. supplier of industrial gases. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Orange County Sanitation District, 10844 Ellis Ave., Fountain Valley, Calif. (just off the 405 freeway at the Euclid Avenue exit)
Five major automakers have announced plans to commercially manufacture hydrogen-fueled cars by 2015. Using locally produced hydrogen will increase its supply, bring costs in line with other renewable energy sources, and provide highly efficient power.
“This is a paradigm shift,” said National Fuel Cell Research Center director Scott Samuelsen. “We’ll be truly fuel-independent and no longer held hostage by other countries. This is the epitome of sustainability, where we’re taking an endless stream of human waste and transforming it to transportation fuel and electricity. This is the first time this has ever been done.”