UCSB is now home to project Bloom Energy Server, a new type of solid oxide fuel cell technology that dramatically increases power generation efficiency by converting fuel into electricity.
Producing over 1.75 million kilowatt hours per year, the server formulates enough energy to sustain an average of 160 U.S. houses. The cell provides power to parts of I.V. and campus and cuts carbon emissions by up to 30 percent.
According to Campus Energy Manager David McHale, a university representative for the project, the technology serves as an affordable and secure energy source and is part of UCSB’s commitment to energy sustainability and efficiency.
“We have a great track record with the Southern California Edison and with looking at emerging energy technologies,” McHale said.
McHale said the server is a step forward for economically viable clean energy as it can run 24 hours a day without need of sunlight or wind power.
“Back in the fifties, it was thought that everyone would have their own little nuclear reactor in their house to generate their electricity,” McHale said. “This is kind of a similar idea in terms of supplying power locally.”
The fuel cell is a type of constantly running battery that does not require combustion or smog-forming particulates and therefore has a low environmental impact. It reduces nearly all nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution by generating electricity with 99.99 percent less water than a typical power plant.
According to the Bloom Energy website, natural gas — the cell’s fuel source — is combined with steam vaporized at high temperatures to produce a reformed fuel substance. This reformed fuel undergoes an electrochemical reaction that yields water and electricity; water is then recycled to combine with fuel.
Department of Physical Facilities LEED Program Manager Jordan Sager, one of the promoters for the fuel cell, said UCSB was selected from a list of applicants to host the cell due to its history with energy innovations.
“Our site is one with high potential for hosting this [technology] as a demonstration project,” Sager said.
The cell server was initially to be located at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management but was later moved to the corner of Stadium Road and El Colegio, which made connecting the device to the existing Edison distribution network easier.
According to McHale, natural gas on campus is distributed at seven pounds per square inch while the Bloom server requires it at 17 pounds per square inch to function.
“We didn’t have the required pressure on campus to serve the fuel cell at [the Bren School],” McHale said. “So that is when it started to move to the other side of the campus.”
McHale said the diagnostic will help assess the device’s ability to survive coastal environmental conditions such as salt and heat.
“They are being set up all over the place so we see how different environments affect it,” McHale said.
Among the challenges to making and implementing the cell technology is the high cost of production. Due to the costliness of the cathode, electrolyte and anode plates required for the electrochemical reaction, methods of cheaper manufacturing are currently being explored.
The longevity of the cell still remains unknown, although it is expected to operate for 10 years without needing plate replacement. The team responsible for UCSB’s Bloom Energy Server will conduct routine inspections, including a thorough investigation after a 10-year period has elapsed to gauge the cell’s productivity levels.