Construction has begun for a new fuel cell power plant at CSUN, making it the single largest plant of its kind at any university in the world, said university officials.
The new 1-megawatt fuel plant will utilize the most efficient technology that could create an environmentally safe energy source for the campus, said Tom Brown, director of Physical Plant Management.
“The project is moving so quickly,” said Brown, who expects the construction to be completed no later than January of 2007. “This project is very complex in nature, but we’re on time.”
The university started digging for the foundation of the structure in late spring 2006. Although the site is located directly across the USU pool, Brown said the new plant would not obstruct any existing walkways and will not burden students with noise pollution since the plants are quiet.
Brown said the new power plant would also provide a carbon dioxide control system into greenhouses and assist in the study of the propagation of plants. He said the new system would improve plant growth and size with a carbon dioxide-rich environment.
The California State University Board of Trustees approved the installation of the energy plant May 16.
The new plant will save the university money in the long run, Brown said.
The new technology would assist in the construction of better buildings and save the university on maintenance costs, he said.
“The current plant is at capacity,” Brown said. “It cannot support future growth. The new fuel cell power plant will provide the campus with efficient energy for years to come.”
Brown said fuel cell technology has been around for 200 years, but until now, the operation of a fuel cell energy plant was too costly to operate.
CSUN purchased the plant for about $4 million. The university will receive incentive funding for the installation from Southern California Gas Company as well as from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, totaling approximately $2.75 million in external funding. The university’s costs to build the plant is about $1.25 million.
The facility was purchased from FuelCell Energy, Inc., and is the seventh plant of its kind installed at a university.
The Connecticut-based manufacturer has designed 250 kilowatts to 2 megawatts power plants for hospitals, hotels and universities including, University of New York at Syracuse and Pohang University in Korea.
The company’s most current project is the design of a new fuel cell power plant at the U.S. Marine Corps training facility at California’s Camp Pendleton.
While the plant may seem expensive, Brown said the price is exceptionally low since most fuel cell power plants cost around $7 million.
In addition to providing the campus with environmentally safe power, the fuel cell power plant also will affect students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, said Dr. Sheng-Taur Mau, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“The project creates excellent opportunities for our students,” Mau said. “Through internships with (PPM) Administration, students will gain hands on experience with the new technology.”
Students from the College of Science and Mathematics will also be affected, as the new facility will provide students with the opportunity to study the effects of the new energy source on plants and photosynthesis. With the facility being accessible to students, they will be able to gain hands-on experience with the latest technology in fuel cell energy.
PPM hired 12 graduate students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science and have plans to hire more interns to assist with the installation of the new facility.
Shawn McConomy, graduate student and intern at PPM, said the interns are hired to do research for the carbon dioxide system for the greenhouses.
“The experience is good and practical,” McConomy said. “I’m able to see things being put to work in front of me, instead of just doing paperwork.”