Issue 11 and Volume 104.

By Steve Blankinship
Associate Editor

Caterpillar Gensets Assure Biosphere 2’s Ecosystems Keep Running

As one of the world’s largest living laboratories, Biosphere 2 is a three-acre glass greenhouse – home to more than 3,800 species of plants and animals. Scientific experiments run around the clock in Biosphere’s six small ecosystems (biomes) that include a rain forest, a 900,000-gallon ocean, grasslands, desert, savanna, and a cottonwood forest. Gensets provide both prime power and backup for all buildings on the 250-acre campus, which in addition to Biosphere 2, include offices, research labs, a gatehouse, hotel and conference center, restaurant and energy center.

The Biosphere is equipped with a dedicated utility feed, while all exterior buildings operate via a separate utility feed. Each feed can be interconnected manually if necessary. “It’s one way for us to make sure we don’t lose power,” says Clark Reddin, director of facilities for Biosphere 2. Ensuring continuous, reliable power is an absolute must for Biosphere 2. If the facility loses power, the rain forest would be gone in 30 minutes and the remaining biomes within a day. Located in the Catalina Mountains (about 30 miles north of Tucson, Ariz.), the facility must be able to take care of all its needs. Almost every system is triple redundant: three pumps for chilled water and three or hot water, three boilers, two heat exchangers, and multiple generators.

Delivery of the new Cat G3608 genset to Biosphere 2. Photo courtesy of Empire Power Systems.
Click here to enlarge image

Paralleling with the utility, the Biosphere had become accustomed to supplying a portion of its own power. Increasingly, however, the local utility had been unable to supply the large amounts of power the campus needed during summer months, forcing the Biosphere to generate more and more of its own power. The existing generators, which were old and unreliable, had to be replaced.

Reddin turned to Caterpillar, and a new Cat G3608 was installed in the Energy center to provide 1,500 kW of prime power to Biosphere 2. It wasn’t an easy installation. The Biosphere’s energy center had been built around the two old gensets and didn’t have an opening large enough to remove the outdated equipment. The local Cat dealer – Empire Power Systems of Phoenix, Ariz. – operating as both the power supplier and general contractor, cut a hole in the back of the building and removed one of the old 95,000 pound generators. The G3608 was installed and the other old genset left in place. Plans to remove, replace, or restore it are in the works.

The project proved to be a one-of-a-kind installation. There were switching arrangements, control parameters and paralleling issues to consider. At the same time, the SCADA system was upgraded. Basically, says Reddin, Empire provided a complete energy center upgrade and retrofit in a period of eight months. Recalling a time when a storm knocked out power and Empire delivered a 1,750 kW power module to the campus and had it up and running within 12 hours, Reddin said, “I knew that if anything went wrong, Caterpillar would have stepped in. I was confident they would stick behind their work. And they have.”

DOE’s Fuel Cell Chief Says Hydrogen Infrastructure Still Needed

Fuel cells would be commercially viable tomorrow, said Mark Williams, fuel cells product manager for DOE, if there were a cheaper, easier way to produce hydrogen. Williams made his remarks late in September at the Fuel Cell 2000 conference in Philadelphia. “There’s no infrastructure for it (hydrogen),” said Williams. “So, do we develop huge plants to produce it, or use gasoline to reform it and make it?”

Williams said manufacturing costs need to be brought down significantly and emphasized there are many scientific problems that still need to be resolved. The silver bullet, said Williams, is some kind of small, inexpensive reformer to convert the hydrogen, something a lot of companies are trying to create.

Williams said fuel cells are a niche market right now, with a kilowatt of power costing from $3,000 to $4,000 to produce. In contrast, he said the average big power plant using coal or natural gas produces a kilowatt for about $1,000. Bill Baker, spokesman for FuelCell Energy, which plans to begin taking orders on fuel cell power plants at end of 2001, says FuelCell does not believe recent increases in natural gas prices will have a detrimental effect on the rollout of their products. FuelCell will be selling generation units ranging in size from 250 kW to 3 MW. By the end of 2005, the company projects a turnkey capital cost of $1,200 per kW for their units.

“As gas prices rise, efficiency becomes more important,” says Baker. He says the FuelCell units will deliver about 50 percent efficiency on a stand-alone basis, and when used in a combined-cycle configuration, will deliver 60 to 65 percent efficiency. Used in a cogeneration application, in a hospital for instance, Baker says the units will provide total power/thermal efficiency ranging from 75 to 80 percent. “Our modeling has always been based on gas prices in the $3 to $4/MMBtu range,” he says. He draws a comparison to how demand for fuel-efficient cars increases when gasoline prices rise.

Williams predicted fuel cells will be used to power commercial facilities such as hospitals, hotels and large computer centers by 2005. Residential homes will see them about 2010, with cars following by 2015. One method for automotive application centers on using propane instead of gasoline to reform hydrogen. That approach is being considered by an alliance of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and Ballard Power Systems aimed at bringing fuel cell powered vehicles to the market by 2005.

FuelCell 2000 conference chair Peter Faguy said portable applications for fuel cells will be the first to reach the marketplace. “Many companies are focusing on creating small, portable fuel cell powered devices such as lanterns and warning lights,” said Faguy, director of electrochemical materials for Microcoating Technologies. Warning lights on highways in New Jersey are already using fuel cells and camping equipment manufacturer Coleman is working with Ballard on a new product that will use fuel cell technology.

APS Solar Partners Program Tries Something Different

STMicroelectronics will purchase all power from a 20 kW solar plant installed atop its northeast Phoenix facility as part of the APS Solar Partners program. APS is Arizona’s largest electricity provider. The balance of the manufacturing facility’s needs will be purchased in the traditional manner – off the electrical grid from APS. Normally under the Solar Partners program, electricity generated by solar plants is fed directly into the electrical grid system that serves all APS customers.

“This is a milestone for APS and for STMicroelectronics,” said Ed Fox, APS Vice President of Environment, Safety and Communications. “This installation marks the first industrial solar application in Arizona and mirrors the strong environmental philosophies of both companies.”

Capstone Turbine Corporation on a Roll

Harza Engineering Company (now Montgomery Watson Harza), Mariah Energy, Alliant Energy Corp. and Cinergy have joined the rapidly growing number of Capstone microturbine buyers, announcing the purchase of hundreds of Capstone MicroTurbines for deployment in various energy ventures. Meanwhile Capstone’s strategic alliances have grown to include Mitsubishi and Williams Energy. In 1998, Capstone became the first vendor to offer commercial power products utilizing microturbine technology.

Harza’s newly-formed energy services company, Harza Energy, LLC, has bought 250 Capstone microturbine systems as part of a new three-year strategic alliance with Capstone in which Harza will serve as a nationwide provider of MicroTurbine power systems. Harza Energy will provide turnkey energy solutions to small commercial clients, large industrial users, local communities, large government agencies, municipal electric suppliers and utilities. “We see Harza Energy as our vehicle to continue our leadership in distributed generation and resource recovery projects,” says Harza President & CEO Dr. Refaat A. Abdel-Malek. Harza Energy will be led by Stephen J. Chippas, an eleven-year Harza veteran with an extensive background in both the technical and legal aspects of power projects.

Commenting on the company’s purchase of the Capstone systems, Abdel-Malek said Capstone is years ahead in microturbine design, functionality, reliability and ultra-low emission performance. “Harza is a leader in the design and construction management of large-scale centralized power generation throughout the world,” said Abdel-Malek.

Dr. Ake Almgren, president and CEO of Capstone Turbine, said, “Harza has great expertise and experience in wastewater management, solid waste remediation and other areas of resource recovery. This is a perfect fit for the microturbine models that we have specially designed to use low-grade waste gases-which are otherwise vented or flared into the atmosphere-as a renewable fuel source to generate onsite electricity.”

Meanwhile, Mariah Energy, a distributed micro-utility based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has announced a two-year, 126-unit order from Capstone. Mariah will deploy the Capstone MicroTurbine as a component of their Heat PlusPower micro-cogeneration packages worldwide. Mariah has provided such a combined-heat-and-power (CHP) project at a commercial/residential building in Calgary. Recovering heat from the microturbine exhaust maximizes the system’s total efficiency to more than 80 percent, and excess power is sold back to the utility grid at premium rates.

“Almost all centralized power plant generation for the province of Alberta is coal-fired,” says Paul Liddy, Mariah president. “Efficiency is about 30 percent, and a portion of that is lost in getting it to the end-user. Heat generated is simply wasted, and a lot of pollutants are being generated in the process. Our Capstone MicroTurbine based solution offers triple the efficiency, near-zero emissions, heat and power costs lower than utility rates and protection from outages. And with the ability to sell unused electricity back to the grid, often at a margin of several hundred percent, we can add further to a customer value proposition,” said Liddy.

Madison, Wisc.-based energy service provider Alliant Energy Corp. intends to distribute Capstone microturbines in Chicago and neighboring counties and is in the process of establishing partnerships with local Chicago companies to provide installation and service of the machines. “This technology is the future of energy delivery,” said Eliot Protsch, executive vice president with Alliant. “Microturbines will address many needs for Chicagoans. They will provide more reliable electricity to the area at a less expensive rate while upholding our commitment to the environment.” And Cincinnati, Ohio-based Cinergy Corp. has ordered 52 Capstone MicroTurbines, worth $1.5 million, as part of a distribution agreement.

Early this year, Mitsubishi joined four other major Japanese corporations in forming strategic alliances with Capstone to distribute the microturbine unit in Japan and beyond. In addition, major U.S. players such as Williams Energy also have exclusive agreements with Capstone to market the microturbine.