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Biogas to produce power from fuel cells

Methane from a wastewater treatment plant and an egg farm in California will be captured and fed to a power-producing fuel cell.

FuelCell Energy this week announced two deals through which its electricity-producing fuel cells will be powered by biogas from chicken waste and sewage.

The company, a competitor to the much-hyped Bloom Energy, has been making fuel cells for years aimed at commercial customers. The fuel cells produce electricity from different fuels, including methane made from organic material.

Fuel cell from FuelCell Energy which can run on different fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas, and biogas.
Fuel cell from FuelCell Energy which can run on different fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas, and biogas.

On Thursday, the Danbury, Conn.-based company said that it sold two 300-kilowatt machines to Eastern Municipal Water District for use at a wastewater facility in Riverside County, Calif.

There, an anaerobic digester, using microorganisms and heat, will break down biosolids into methane gas, which will be piped into the fuel cells to make electricity. The heat from that process will supplement a gas boiler for the digester, making the overall system more efficient.

The same technology will be used to generate 1.4 megawatts of power at the Olivera Egg Ranch, a poultry ranch located in French Camp, Calif.

Chicken waste right now is stored in lagoons. But an anaerobic digester will be installed to convert that waste into methane, which will be used to run the fuel cell and produce enough power for the entire egg farm. Both systems are expected to go online by the middle of next year.

In addition to reducing waste, the fuel cells produce electricity without emitting smog-causing air pollutants. The Eastern Municipal Water District has been using another fuel cell and is pleased with its reliability, said board president Ron Sullivan in a statement. It also helps the facility meet state clean air and greenhouse gas regulations.

"This Perris Valley facility is a new wastewater treatment plant under construction that has been designed to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient. The ultra-clean power generation by the fuel cell power plant was an important aspect of our purchasing decision," he said.