The Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) has pulled off a world first – it’s built a tri-generation fuel cell and hydrogen energy station that uses methane from its sewage facility to generate heat, electricity and hydrogen.
Here is how the system, designed by a company called FuelCell Energy, works:
Sewage, as it waits to be processed, produces methane. The methane is reformulated into hydrogen. The hydrogen is sent to a fuel cell. The fuel cell creates electricity. The electricity powers the OCSD facility, and the leftover hydrogen goes to a fueling station operated by equipment-maker AirPower. There, it is purified so that it can power vehicles. The heat generated by the process can also be captured and put to use.
Each day, the OCSD facility produces 250 kilowatts of electricity and enough excess hydrogen to power 25-50 vehicles. That might not sound like a lot, but remember it’s just one waste-processing plant, and it just one source of methane gas. If all sources were used, it’s estimated the method could power up to 200 million fuel-cell vehicles.
Whether or not we see more such plants rolling out will likely depend on the results of the three-year OCSD project, which was partly funded by the Department of Energy.