SERC Advisory Board

This spring we brought to fruition our long-discussed plan to convene a SERC advisory board. The inaugural meeting was held at SERC on April 5. The board is made up of the following leaders in the energy field:

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SERC directors and advisory board members listen to faculty research associate Dave Vernon discuss the newly funded aqueous phase reformation project.

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SERC directors and advisory board members gather for dinner after a productive day.

  • Rick Duke, Associate Director of Energy and Climate Change, White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Shannon Graham, Associate Director for Energy Consulting, Navigant Consulting
  • Dan Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy, Energy and Resources Group & Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley
  • David Katz, founder of Alternative Energy Engineering, a leading renewable energy supply firm
  • David Rubin, Director of Service Analysis, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
  • Jeff Serfass, President of Technology Transition Corp., Washington, D.C., Managing Director, California Hydrogen Business Council
  • Andrea Tuttle, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and consultant for forest and climate policy

The advisory board’s purpose is to help SERC with strategic planning and fundraising. We appreciate the time all of these SERC allies are taking out of their very busy schedules to gather and help us plan a long and successful future for the center.

HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station Upgrade

SERC Engineers Greg Chapman (left) and Mark Rocheleau with the new 700 bar compressor.

SERC Engineers Greg Chapman (left) and Mark Rocheleau with the new 700 bar compressor. (Photo credit Andrea Alstone.)

SERC is now beginning the construction phase of our hydrogen station upgrade project.  When it’s complete, the upgrade will allow us to completely fill our Toyota fuel cell car with 6 kg of hydrogen.  That will give us a 400-mile range, enough to travel to the Bay Area or Sacramento and back.

The new 700 bar compressor has arrived and the on-site work for the fueling station upgrade is in progress. The extension to the east block wall is complete and our design has been reviewed and approved by an independent engineer with experience in hydrogen systems. In the coming weeks the compressor will be moved to its final location (no small task) and plumbing and electrical work can begin. We’re excited to see the upgrade taking shape; stay tuned for more updates.

Clean Water Access for the Developing World

Electrochlorinator Kiosk Kit

Electrochlorinator Kiosk Kit

Here in Arcata, as in most places across the United States, we take our utility services for granted. Our homes and businesses are served with reliable (most of the time) electricity, natural gas, and clean water, but many people in the developing world are not so fortunate. Since 2007, SERC has helped expand electricity access with our work supporting the Lighting Africa and Lumina programs, which are focused on markets for affordable off-grid lighting devices. This past summer, we worked with Cascade Designs to provide clean water access for the developing world.

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HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station Upgrade

Humboldt State University Hydrogen Fueling Station

Humboldt State University Hydrogen Fueling Station (Photo credit Kellie Brown).

The HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station high-pressure upgrade is underway. The principal design work is complete and all major equipment has been ordered. The new high-pressure compressor should arrive at HSU any day now. HSU Plant Operations will begin work to expand the east block wall and run new electrical service to accommodate the new compressor. Once Plant Operations is finished, SERC engineers will begin plumbing the high-pressure hydrogen lines that make up the new dispensing system. Testing and commissioning of the upgrade is targeted to begin in early spring.

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Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education

This article was written by Brett Selvig and Ryan Dunne

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Brett Selvig and Ryan Dunne assemble a test setup around a PEM fuel cell. (Photo credit Protonex Technology Corporation.)

As part of the Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education project, SERC facilitated internships at Protonex Technology Corporation for the summer of 2011 for two students. After submitting resumes and being interviewed over the phone, we were selected for the ten week positions. Our initial hesitation about leaving our friends and familiar nook in Arcata for Massachusetts was soon outweighed by excitement about getting to work with cutting edge fuel cell technology.

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Torrefaction Continues at SERC

Wood chips before and after torrefaction.

Unprocessed wood chips (front) and the same feedstock after torrefaction. Photo credit Kellie Brown, HSU Photographer.

SERC is continuing its work with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) on torrefaction. Torrefaction is the process of heating biomass to 250 – 300 degrees Celcius in the absence of oxygen.

The resulting product, referred to by RFT as “BioCoal,” has a higher energy density and is easier to pelletize than raw biomass. It is also hydrophobic, meaning it does not absorb water. These properties make BioCoal easier and less costly to store and transport compared to raw biomass. BioCoal can be used as a feedstock for liquid biofuels or co-fired in a coal power plant, thus replacing fossil fuels with a renewable energy source.

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Hydrogen Fueling Station to Receive Upgrade

Humboldt State University Hydrogen Fueling Station

Humboldt State University Hydrogen Fueling Station (Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown).

SERC has recently received a Caltrans grant to increase the delivery pressure capacity of the HSU hydrogen fueling station. Currently the station stores hydrogen gas at 420 bar (6,000 pounds per square inch), and can fill a vehicle’s tank to 350 bar (5,000 psi). The upgrade will allow for fueling up to 700 bar (10,000 psi). Newer fuel cell vehicles, such as the Toyota FCHV-adv currently on loan at HSU from UC Berkeley, have storage tanks rated for 700 bar storage, which almost doubles the amount of hydrogen that can be stored onboard.

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LED Lighting Africa

Student research assistant Patricia Lai demonstrates the “multiplane distribution” test method that was developed at SERC and allows low-cost measurement of luminous flux. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Student research assistant Patricia Lai demonstrates the “multiplane distribution” test method that was developed at SERC and allows low-cost measurement of luminous flux. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Here at SERC we are continuing our work supporting the Lighting Africa program, a joint IFC-World Bank initiative to catalyze markets for good quality off-grid lighting in the developing world. Over the last year, SERC has played a key role coordinating the Quality Assurance portion of the program, including generating and interpreting product test results, writing test methods, meeting with international policy-makers, and too many other tasks to list here. Some key breakthroughs and activities over the last few months have been:

  •  Developing a new method for measuring total lumen output for lighting devices that only requires $2,000 in equipment – compared to the $30,000 often required for the necessary hardware. This will allow startup manufacturers and low-budget laboratories (like the ones in some developing countries) to measure the true light output of their devices without needing to send them out for expensive testing.
  • Contributing to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change “Small-scale methodology AMS-III.AR,” which allows off-grid lighting systems to receive credit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helps reduce the up front cost of improved lighting to end-users.
  • Traveling to Munich and Nairobi to meet with policymakers and representatives from other international programs and harmonize their activities with the Lighting Africa Quality Assurance framework, which is becoming a global model in the off-grid lighting world.

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Stack-Outside-the-Box™ Arrives at Southwestern Community College

Southwestern Community College

Instructor Ron Poor with Southwestern Community College’s new Stack-Outside-the-Box™. Photo credit Southwestern Community College.

On March 10th of this year, the second Stack-Outside-the-Box™ (SOtB™) that SERC has produced was delivered to Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. Receiving the unit was Ron Poor, head of the Electronics Engineering Technology program. Last year, seeking to include the concepts of hydrogen based renewable energy in the curriculum, Ron secured a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for the purchase of this bench-top fuel cell power system. “We’ve never seen Ron so excited,” the electronics and computer technology students said when the SOtB™ arrived; they were quoted in the hometown Sylva Herald newspaper.

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Helping Frostburg State with Hydrogen Technology

Frostburg State University Logo

Frostburg State University Logo (Image credit Wikimedia Commons)

SERC has recently begun working with Frostburg State University (FSU) and Instant Access Networks to design and build an off-grid hydrogen storage and power system. FSU, located in Western Maryland in the city of Frostburg, is looking to create a backup power system for important equipment in the case of a long- term power outage caused by natural or manmade disasters. They plan to generate hydrogen via electrolysis and renewable energy and store it on site; a fuel cell will provide power when needed. The system will be housed at FSU’s Sustainable Energy Research Facility, an off-grid and renewable energy powered building currently under construction.

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