Powerful hurricanes have always been the kryptonite of an electrical grid. Prior to the devastation in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Sandy and Katrina kept millions of people in the dark. To keep a massive power outage from happening again, one company in Connecticut has turned to natural gas that provides efficiency, reliability, and significantly less harm to the environment than diesel generators or coal.
Connecticut was one of the areas along the Northeast that felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The storm disconnected eight million people from the electrical grid and fuel distribution was greatly impacted. Among the many lessons learned from these natural disasters, the energy infrastructure was “hardened,” putting power lines underground and installing backup generators that were ready to fire on when needed.
FuelCell Energy, a company based in Connecticut, develops clean energy solutions with hydrogen power and large-scale fuel cell systems. They have millions of megawatts installed around three continents through their power plants. Locally, they have a generator with a capacity of 15 megawatts in Bridgeport.
According to Quartz, it’s safe to live close to the facility and it’s 66 percent efficient -- a third more by comparison to coal-fired power plants. While these facilities still create carbon dioxide, FuelCell Energy has developed technology to capture it. These emissions are completely separated in the process, removing water through a cooling process and taking out hydrogen from the carbon dioxide.
Excess water is dumped into sewers without the need to be treated, and the separated hydrogen goes back into the fuel cell. What’s left is carbon dioxide that can be sold to other companies, such as beverage makers. In the future, these plants could store carbon dioxide emissions underground.
Traditionally, power plants are connected with large power lines that can affect a number of people if a segment of them were to go down in a storm. These generators are connected through shorter cables that are underground, creating a microgrid. While diesel generators are common, FuelCell’s alternative methods don’t pollute the environment and they aren’t as expensive or large as battery backup facilities.
Another generator fuels the University of Bridgeport, featuring a capacity of 1.4 megawatts. There’s less reliance on the city’s coal plant, which spikes the electric bill when it needs to be fired up in the summer. It will also be ready to go if another hurricane wreaks havoc, keeping the lights on through most of the university.
FuelCell Energy has partnered up with ExxonMobil to take on its biggest task yet. One of the largest oil and gas companies in the world is attempting to improve its carbon capturing methods. They’ll need to hit a massive goal of capturing six billion metric tons of CO2 by 2050, and using fuel cell technology could be their best path to achieve it.