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Fuel Cell Project Comes to SUNY-ESF



SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has received funds to install a molten carbonate fuel cell that will be used to produce energy to help power the college’s campus and to research methods for commercializing clean energy.

The New York Power Authority is providing more than $2.5 million in "front-end funding" to get the project started. In addition, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority today announced a $1 million grant to the college for the fuel cell project. Authority President William M. Flynn made the award to ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. during the 2002 NYSERDA Combined Heat and Power Conference in New York City.

The 250-kilowatt fuel cell will be the only one of its type in New York state, and one of only about five across the country. "This is a quasi-commercial prototype,"Murphy said. “The molten carbonate cell operates at higher temperatures than traditional fuel cells. We’ll be studying the reliability and feasibility of commercial use.

Murphy said the installation is the first stage of a larger project that will eventually match the fuel cell with a gasifier fueled by wood. The wood, a type of willow known as salix, has been the focus of more than 15 years of research by ESF scientists exploring ways to commercialize woody crops in the United States.

"It will be an innovative process. It will combine two high-tech methods to make wood into clean energy. There’s little waste and little environmental impact, and, of course, it’s a renewable resource," Murphy said.

When the fuel cell is installed on campus, it will occupy a space roughly 8-feet-by-15-feet outside the college’s Physical Plant building on the west end of campus. Initially, it will be powered by natural gas. Once it is matched with the gasifier, it will be fed with willow grown under the auspices of ESF’s Salix Consortium. The wood, called "biomass" by scientists because it is a natural, biological, product, will be converted to a clean, synthetic, carbon dioxide-neutral gas that does not contribute to "greenhouse" gas effects.

"This award and our partnership with the New York Power Authority and NYSERDA play a key role in our vision for the kind of top-caliber scientific research being done by SUNY-ESF’s chemists, structural biologists and forest products experts in the science of sustainable and renewable energy," Murphy said.

The funding announced today supports ESF’s designation as the SUNY Sustainable and Renewable Energy Center. SUNY Chancellor Robert L. King made the designation earlier this year, marking the college as the university-wide clearinghouse for new developments in biofuels and other new energy-producing techniques.

ESF has long been a leader in fuel cell research, much of it performed by Dr. Israel Cabasso, who is recognized internationally as an expert on the field of polymer science. He is director of the college’s Polymer Research Institute and was among a group of inventors and entrepreneurs honored recently by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York.

ESF has worked closely with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, and U. S. Reps. Sherwood Boehlert and James T. Walsh to develop a bioenergy and bioproducts technology center at ESF. Working in concert with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture, ESF has conducted more than $12 million in research to develop the production of woody biomass from salix and is involved in co-firing and gasification demonstration tests. Recently, salix was named a commodity crop in the 2002 Farm Bill, allowing farmers who grow it to qualify for cash payments.

"This is the time to take this important step aimed at eventually freeing New York from dependence on foreign oil while using our plentiful, renewable and environmentally friendly lignocellulosic feedstocks," Murphy said.

For more information:

SUNY-ESF Office of News and Publications
Claire B. Dunn, assistant director