When the Physical Plant Management staff broke ground for the construction of CSUN’s fuel cell power plant in April 2006, the team only had eight months to complete the entire process. This included digging up a 5.5 ft. hole, re-compacting 95 percent of the dirt excavated from that hole, running a new gas, water, and sewer main, cementing the foundation where the power plant would sit, and putting together the power plant.
Although the entire process required several long days and nights, most of the power plant management staff did not mind. To them, they were part of something that has never been done before. CSUN’s one-megawatt fuel cell power plant, which will be inaugurated this Friday, is the largest at any major university in the world and considered to be the fourth of its size in California.
“It was nice to be part of a team bringing in new technology and clean power to the university,” said Willy Martinez, an electrician in power plant management.
Perry Martin, supervising plumber, said, “It’s something we’ve never done before and something we’ll probably never get to do again.”
Fuel cell energy is produced by a chemical reaction between hydrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that plants use to feed on) and methane (gas). Unlike a regular power plant, fuel cells give off water in the form of vapor and only about a third of the carbon dioxide that a normal power plant would.
CSUN’s fuel cell energy plant will produce about 10 percent of the schools energy and will also serve to heat the water in the University Student Union swimming pool. It will make CSUN less dependent on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. And if there were to be an earthquake, CSUN would still be able to produce some of its own energy.
“It’s great that CSUN is doing this,” said Professor Laurence Caretto from the department of engineering who currently teaches a class on alternative energy. He said he plans on taking his class on a tour of the power plant.
Shawn McConomy, a graduate student and one of the lead participants in the project, said power is very important and it is such a limited resource.
“Wars start over it,” McConomy said. “A lot of things happen because we don’t have power.”
He said fuel cells are something that can make a difference in the world instead of worrying about making cell phones.
The project was made possible through the Self Generation Incentive Program, a California state program that encourages the use of alternative fuel. The Southern California Gas Company contributed $2.25 million and DWP provided $500,000. The incentive program also helped pay for the solar panels in CSUN’s parking lots E6 and B2.
PPM began considering a fuel cell power plant when the school’s cooling power became scarce. The chillers, which help keep campus water cool, usually run at night when electricity is cheaper. Cooling power is also used for air conditioning. McConomy said that with several construction projects on campus, the cold water runs out before the day is over. Because of this, chillers had to run during the day, as well. As a consequence, alternative energy was considered. Additional chillers will be installed and will run with the energy produced from the fuel cell power plant.
The ceremony for the fuel cell power plant will be held on Matador Walk next to the swimming pool. Several city officials are expected to be present for the ceremony. An explanation of the fuel cell energy process will run on a monitor that will be placed in front of the power plant.