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Fuel cells to power Air Force housing at San Antonio

San Antonio, Texas -- November 7, 2001 -- Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) will demonstrate three 3-kilowatt (kW) proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells at Brooks Air Force Base under a $500,000 contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. Each of the three natural gas-powered fuel cells provided by DCH Technology, Inc. will power a base housing unit at Brooks. Other partners in the one-year demonstration are San Antonio City Public Service (CPS) and St. Philip's College.

PEM fuel cells, in concert with a natural gas reformer, convert natural gas into electricity more efficiently than an internal-combustion engine and generator and can do so in an almost silent manner. Like a home generator, however, fuel cells can supply electric power that is independent of a large transmission and distribution network.

The project's primary objective is to install, operate, maintain, monitor, and report data on the fuel cells to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Secondary objectives include:

  • Familiarizing area Air Force personnel with fuel cell technology;

  • Establishing a fuel cell/distributed power experience base among CPS personnel;

  • Providing the basis for a fuel cell education program for St. Philips College;

  • Providing product feedback to DCH Technology on their fuel cell's performance in the San Antonio climate; and

  • Demonstrating fuel cell technology to the San Antonio population through articles, TV spots, and the Internet.

The fuel cells, to be delivered beginning in October 2002, will be grid-connected so that the base's normal electric grid can provide additional power to the housing units if the electricity load exceeds the capacity of the fuel cell, or if the fuel cell goes off-line.

SwRI will provide project management and coordination among partners, facilitate training, and design and implement a web-based link to the units. The Institute also will monitor and record data on the fuel cells for the Corps of Engineers.

CPS will handle installation, interconnection, and code compliance. The utility also will gain experience in installing and operating fuel cells and use that experience to determine how fuel cells and distributed generation could benefit customers.

St. Philip's College plans to train students and/or faculty in fuel cell maintenance, operation, and data collection. The community college views the project as an opportunity to give students and faculty hands-on experience in fuel cell technology. In addition, the project will serve as a template for infusing advanced energy technologies into the curriculum as part of St. Philip's Energy Solutions Park Initiative.

Brooks AFB personnel will be involved in final site selection and utility considerations while also serving as liaison between project personnel and base housing personnel.

For more information contact Joe Fohn at (210) 522-4630, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

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