Energy efficient and environmentally friendly

For the first time, a fuel cell system is part of a US electric utility’s grid. Better yet, it’s the largest commercial fuel cell system in the US.

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Anchorage Mail Processing Center, Alaska US Senator Ted Stevens and US Postmaster General Bill Henderson inaugurated service of a one-megawatt fuel cell system now generating power at the postal facility. It is the US’s largest assured-power commercial fuel cell system to date. It is operated and was installed by Chugach Electric Association for the Postal Service.

Five fuel cells, connected in parallel to produce one megawatt of electricity, now are the primary source of power for the Anchorage facility, located adjacent to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The fuel cells are part of the local electric utility’s grid – operating in parallel with the grid, dispatched from the utility’s central system dispatch center. Excess power from the fuel cells is fed into the Chugach electric grid.

The fuel cells that make up the system were developed and manufactured by International Fuel Cells, South Windsor, CT, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation.

New technology, developed for the project and largely funded by the DOD, Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering and Research Laboratory (CERL), assures that the facility will continue to operate uninterrupted during a grid outage. If there is a grid outage, the fuel cells transition to operate as an independent system, continuing to power the Postal Service facility. The automatic transition will appear seamless, eliminating the need for conventional non-interruptible power supplies and stand-by generators.

A fuel cell is similar to a battery. It uses an electrochemical process to convert chemical energy into electricity and hot water. Each IFC PC25 fuel cell generates 200 kilowatts of electricity, enough for more than 100 homes, and more than 700,000 Btu’s per hour of usable heat.

Heat recovery from the fuel cells will help provide space heating to the facility, increasing the overall fuel efficiency of the Postal Service Center. As a result, less fuel will be needed than from conventional systems.

Fuel cells do not burn fuel so the system eliminates air emissions normally associated with acid rain and smog, and dramatically reduces those associated with global warming. Compared with electricity generated from the average combustion-based processes in the Lower 48, a one-megawatt fuel cell system would save more than 200,000 pounds of air pollution and 11 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during each year of operation.

Research, development, manufacture and installation of the approximately $5.5 million fuel cell system was funded, in part, by Chugach, the US Postal Service, US Department of Defense, Cooperative Research Network of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Electric Power Research Institute. The control system for the project was developed by CERL as part of the Department of Defense Fuel Cells Program.

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