Direct FuelCell Power Plant, CSU, Northridge, Ca

As power generating technology was becoming more efficient, California State University in Northridge, California wanted to take greater control of their "power costs while keeping emissions low". Campus expansion was in the planning stage so CSU chose to install a high efficiency, clean, Direct FuelCell system. FuelCell Energy Inc had developed a way to release the energy in natural gas while avoiding the combustion process. Without combustion, "particulate matter, nitrogen and sulphur oxide gases" are not released into the waste stream. FuelCell Energy had developed a way to bring "high carbon fuel cells" and natural gas together where a reformation process produces "electricity, heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide". The water based cooling system then carries the reformed products away from the generator. As all of these reformed products will be utilized later, this becomes a highly efficient way to generate lot′s of clean power and grow things.

This system delivers hot water from the generater to two 1000 ton absorption; chillers. The absorption chiller uses water as a refrigerant for air conditioning needs. The process of using heat to do work is called "Combined Heat and Power". This system brings the efficient, old technology absorption chiller back to work in a big way, and avoids the use of power hungry conventional air conditioning systems. These chillers have been used to provide air conditioning in the recreational vehicle industry. By utilizing the heat product USC lowered their gross per/foot overall energy use by 3.8%. Since the 2007 startup, the university has lowered their cost of power by $235,000 per year. They have achieved a 80% electrical efficiency and avoided adding 100 ton/year of various oxide gases and particulate products into the atmosphere.

In 2007 this was the single largest fuel cell power plant at any university in the world. While working as a production mechanic at Teva Pharmaceuticals I studied this "Combined Heat and Power" process in a school that I attended. I also acquired my refrigeration certifications, compliments of Teva. The campus was an hours drive west of my bed, so on Saturday 5-1-10, I visited the campus.

Direct FuelCell Power Plant, CSU Northridge, Ca
  • Electrical Generator CSU, Northridge, CaCarbon Fuel Cells react in the presents of natural gas and generate electricity, heat and CO2.
  • Absorption ChillersEfficient HVAC that uses heat to generate cold.
  • Electrical InterfaceExchanging So. Ca. Edison and plant power is handled here.
  • Cooling Water PumpsThey feed hot water from the generator to eight cooling towers.
  • Eight Cooling Towers
  • Cooling Tower Close Up
Combustionless Electrical Generator CSU, Northridge, Ca1 2 Absorption Chillers3 Electrical Interface4 Cooling Water Pumps5 Eight Cooling Towers6 Cooling Tower Close Up7

This FuelCell arrangement generates one million watts (1MW) of electrical power plus more than enough heat for the campus buildings. Periodic electrical excesses are sold back to the utility by placing it on the electrical grid. The electrical equipment that interfaces with the grid is inside the metal building

The metal building also houses two economical 1000 ton absorption chillers. These chillers make thirty-three degree water for refrigeration and cooling needs of the campus buildings. Absorption chillers reduce refrigeration expenses in three ways: They use an existing heat source to vaporize and act as the refrigerant. Hazardous oil based refrigerants are thus eliminated. Power hungry, high pressure refrigerant pumps are replaced with common low pressure water pumps. Additionally these chillers do it quietly!

An important component of the Direct FuelCell generator system is a quarter-acre site the university refers to as a "Sub-Tropical Rain Forest". After the cooling and refrigeration process is completed, pumps feed the water to eight cooling tower's. Water falls through holes in a large dish at the top of each tower while an internal fan enhances droplet diffusion, evaporation, cooling, mist and more.


As with my visit to the SEGS plant in Kramer Junction, California, monstrous amounts of desert turtle shade and work is accomplished without oxides, noise, smoke or smell. Great Stuff.

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