Campus moves toward lowering greenhouse gases

William Kammer

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law on Sept. 27 that caps the amount of man-made greenhouse gases that California can produce. CSUN is already helping reduce these emissions by using alternative energy, which includes creating a megawatt producing hydrogen fuel cell on campus.

“It’s the first in the world at a university,” said Tom Brown, executive director of physical plant management at CSUN. “As for emission reductions, it’s a major step.”

Set up for the fuel cell has begun next to the botanical gardens on campus, and from the outside it will look like four large batteries lying on their sides, each about 15 feet long and nine feet high.

Brown said the location they chose is a good one, partially because it allows them to aid in the greenhouse and landscaping there. Some carbon dioxide will be emitted by the fuel cell, and that carbon dioxide can be pumped into plants around the area to help them grow.

This way less of the carbon dioxide is released into the air, because some will be used up by the plants, Brown said. He said the carbon dioxide would be pumped into the greenhouse, and into a space that has been cleared out for an experimental sub-tropical landscape.

If enough carbon dioxide is released through the ground, tropical plants might be able to survive, which would create a small rainforest-type garden on campus. Brown said they thought of this when they didn’t know what to do with the carbonic acids and carbon dioxide that the fuel cell produces.

“It all came from this inadvertent problem,” said Brown.

The fuel cell will cost about $4 million to make, but CSUN will receive $2.7 million of that back in rebates. Brown said the fuel cell should be up and running by Dec. 22.

This should be “appreciated by the green folks,” said Brown.

Besides the fuel cell CSUN is working on, the campus also gains power from solar panels and micro-turbines on campus, said Brown.

He said the solar panels can be seen over parking lots B2 and E6, and are sometimes mistaken as shading for cars. The total capacity for power production in the panels is 692 kilowatts (the fuel cell’s megawatt is 1000 kilowatts).

The micro-turbines on campus are located within the control plant next to the art building, and they produce 180 kilowatts, Brown said.

When the fuel cell is operational, CSUN will be creating 20 percent of its own power, while still receiving 80 percent from the city’s Department of Water and Power, Brown said.