This past Friday, CSUN became yet another first-in-the-nation. CSUN has become the first university in the world with its own megawatt fuel cell generator, in addition to this being one of about a dozen generators of about this size in the world.
If there’s one thing not just CSUN but the rest of country needs it’s more power, and fuel cells are definitely a nice step in the right direction. While not as powerful as something more traditional like a nuclear fission power plant or a coal power plant, a fuel cell power plant can be far more efficient. While nuclear and coal power tops out its efficiency at 40 to 45 percent, when the generator is used as a source of both electricity and heat, as CSUN’s is, it’s possible for fuel cells to reach up to 80 percent efficiency. Combined with the solar panels already installed on campus, we will be producing an impressive 1.7 megawatts of relatively clean energy.
There is a catch, though. About 50 percent of the energy produced in the United States is produced from coal. Another 20 percent comes from nuclear fission energy, and only about 3 percent comes from sources like solar and wind energy, which means the energy expended to produce things like the hydrogen necessary for the fuel cell to work will likely come from those less efficient sources.
I can definitely see how that will eventually change, however. Right now we may rely heavily upon things like coal and nuclear fission power, but as more and more of these more efficient, cleaner types of generators come online we will come to depend on other sources less and less. Eventually, shouldn’t we stop using the old ones entirely?
This isn’t a step in the right direction just because it’s more efficient, though. It’s also more environmentally friendly, which is something this country especially could use more of. Instead of producing toxic waste, our generator will produce water and carbon dioxide.
While carbon dioxide is one of those greenhouse gasses we should be worried about, CSUN has a special plan for this carbon dioxide. Instead of just releasing it into the atmosphere, the plan is to redirect it into the botanical gardens to aid the plants there.
They definitely chose the right moment to invest in a fuel cell generator, too. While the generator had a $3 million price tag, the Southern California Gas Company is giving CSUN $2.25 million and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is giving us $819,000 in incentives for the project. This means CSUN is in essence being paid to take something that’s already going to save money in the future, an excellent fiscal decision if I ever saw one.
That CSUN is so technologically advanced gives me a lot of pride in CSUN. This is one of those advancements that universities are supposed to make, something that can further more than just the university, but starts the process of getting the rest of humanity moving in the right direction as well.