The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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PPM building subtropical rainforest on campus

CSUN’s Physical Plant Management is working on a project that will use waste products to create a subtropical rainforest environment on campus that will leave other universities green with envy.

“We’re demonstrating to the industry that it can be done,” said Tom Brown, executive director of PPM and coordinator for the project.

In May of 2006, after three years of researching environmentally friendly energy production, Brown embarked on a two-phase project that would save CSUN an estimated $14.5 million over the next 25 years.

Phase I of the project is the new fuel cell plant, located south of the University Student Union complex. Construction was completed in January 2007. It is the world’s largest fuel cell plant located at a university.

According to Brown, fuel cell energy is not created from the combustion of fossil fuels, like most of the energy we use today. Running on natural gas, it produces electricity at an efficiency rate of 83%, compared with the U.S. national rate of 40%. That means more power, less waste.

Phase I had a total cost of just over $5.2 million, including a $285 thousand warranty and service contract, Brown said. Nearly half of the funding for the plant came in the form of incentives, awarded to the school for the solar panel project on the roofs of the carports in the B1 and B2 parking lots. The remainder of the cost was paid for by PPM from its operating and energy budgets.

In Phase II of the project, the carbon dioxide exhaust produced by the fuel cell will be diverted underground into an adjacent strip of land where the future site of the subtropical environment is located. The enriched CO2, along with waste stream water, will sustain the plant life in the rainforest.

Estimated between $1.8 – $2.7 million, the cost of Phase II, will be paid for with the incentives earned from the fuel cell plant’s construction, Brown said.

With his voice rising with excitement, Brown said that the energy saving projects are helping to pay for themselves. He said CSUN is constantly reinvesting to save on energy costs.

PPM has currently allocated 50 employees, in addition to about 10 student design team members, to work on the project, Brown said.

Brown said the rainforest be complete in 12-18 months. There are currently no specific details about the design of the environment, but Brown stated that the student team is working on those aspects.

According to Perry Martin, a supervising plumber for PPM, the plant life will be arriving to the site in 3-4 weeks.

While taking measurements for the design team, Martin also pointed out an empty cement building located across the pathway, west of parking lot G3, which is going to be torn down for space.

Brenda Kanno, the horticulturist in charge of CSUN’s greenhouses and Botanic Garden, said that she had a problem with PPM’s original idea of supplying the existing garden area with the CO2 from the fuel cell. According to Kanno, they would have had to dig trenches for the pipe-work, which would have altered the garden’s natural state.

But with the plans changing from pumping the CO2 into the botanical gardens to it sustaining a subtropical rainforest, Kanno said she was happy with the outcome.

“If people walking by have an opportunity to learn something, then it’s a positive feature for the campus.”

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