New power plant gets tested at BP

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

The British Petroleum gas-to-liquids plant in Nikiski will begin using a state-of-the-art, power plant by mid-2003, BP officials said.

The fuel cell, a power generation system, is designed to increase electrical efficiency and reduce emissions. This could mean significant improvements to energy sourcing for off-road villages and bush communities across Alaska.

"It will be totally independent," said BP project manager Paul Richards, who addressed the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce weekly luncheon last Tuesday. "Any remote village with a natural gas source can use the fuel cell, and it will be able to provide power to between 250 and 300 homes."

The GTL plant, where natural gas will be transformed into liquid fuel, is scheduled to begin operating by March. BP will install a Siemens Westinghouse "solid oxide fuel cell" unit that will convert low-pressure natural gas directly into electricity through a chemical reaction similar to what is used in a battery.

The fuel cell will produce direct current (DC) electricity and convert it to alternating current (AC), the kind of electricity commonly found in household power outlets.

The cell that will be used at the Nikiski plant will be 40-feet long by about 9-feet wide, Richards said. It will generate 250 kilowatts of electricity and be used to power the warehouse, administrative facilities and possibly some of the GTL mechanisms at the plant.

GTL engineering manager Steve Fortune said the technology designed around the unit is more efficient and more environmentally sound.

"The fuel cell is far more efficient," Fortune said. "It produces far more power per gallon of diesel and produces less emissions."

The unit reuses the heat produced during the biochemical process, thus reducing waste and increasing efficiency. And the cell actually reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than a third from equivalently sized diesel generators and nearly eliminates emissions of other harmful gases generally produced by combustion energy systems.

The project is expected to cost $6.5 million and will operate at the GTL plant for two years.

Chugach Electric Association secured and will administer a $450,000 grant from the Cooperative Research Network of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The fuel cell will be connected to the local electrical grid operated by Homer Electric Association to study operating characteristics and costs. Both Homer Electric and Chugach Electric will share this operating information with CRN.

BP GTL program manager Shane O'Leary said the benefits of the solid oxide cell unit should extend far beyond use in Alaska villages.

"It may be very attractive for future use in remote and environmentally sensitive locations like offshore oil and gas platforms," he said.

However, the fuel cell's use is not just limited to natural gas as a source. Siemens Westinghouse manager of sales and acquisitions Chris Forbes said the unit has been tested for use with more fuel sources with positive environmental results.

"We have demonstrated that it will work with diesel, naphtha and JP-8, a military version of kerosene," Forbes said. "We desulfurize the fuel going in, so there is no sulfur oxide. Carbon dioxide will be very low, there is no carbon monoxide, and nitric oxide is low."

The unit will be up and running in Nikiski by the end of the second quarter of 2003, but Siemens Westinghouse already has begun looking at ways to market the fuel cell.

"We plan to release this to our first customers by late 2003 or early 2004 from our new factory in Pittsburgh," Forbes said. "We will start taking orders by mid-2002."

Forbes said he anticipates initial commercial production time will be more than a year but expects it to be pared down to an estimated three months. He said the company has targeted commercial, industrial and utilities customers and eventually expects to receive orders from government and military organizations.

"We predict that customers interested in cogeneration (the combination of heat and power production) will be looking to purchase a unit," Forbes said. "We will target anyone looking for high energy output and low emissions."

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