RePower Humboldt: BLR Biomass Facility Ventilation System Design Complete

Model of syngas concentration 5 minutes after a leak with the original (top) and final (bottom) ventilation designs. The pink areas are the zones where the concentration is immediately dangerous due to CO toxicity.

Models of syngas concentrations five minutes after a leak with the original (top) and final (bottom) ventilation designs. The pink areas are the zones where the concentration is immediately dangerous due to CO toxicity.

Last summer, the RePower team began evaluating the proposed ventilation system for the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) biomass energy facility. Each phase of the BLR gasification process involves a dangerous gas. First, biomass is processed into a syngas rich in hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This syngas is then processed into pure hydrogen and a waste gas rich in carbon monoxide. In normal operation, the syngas and hydrogen are fully contained, and the waste gas is safely burned in a flare. However, an accidental leak in the system could pose an immediate toxic or explosive danger. The ventilation system must give personnVentilation_Image_2el enough time to safely exit, and must clear hazardous gases from the building after the gasifier system shuts down.

To test different system designs, the RePower team used a software package from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to model contaminant flow in 3-D. We simulated various leak scenarios and examined how the placement of exhaust fans and intake vents affected the removal of toxic and flammable gases. We were able to improve on the original system design and create a more responsive, and robust system. The final design uses a combination of ceiling fans, wall fans, and floor vents to provide optimum ventilation. Following installation, the ventilation system will undergo a smoke test to validate the model results. Completion of this work will ensure a safe operating environment for the biomass facility.

Florida Tech Latest User of SERC Hydrogen Curriculum

SERC’s hydrogen experiment kits are now being used by chemistry students at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). The kits were originally developed as part of SERC’s Department of Energy-funded Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) project.

H2E3 was initially directed at engineering students at California universities, but we have had numerous inquiries from schools outside the state interested in the equipment and curriculum. In addition, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that instructors in fields other than engineering find the H2E3 materials useful in meeting their own teaching objectives.

DOE financial support was also instrumental for Florida Tech in adopting the curriculum. Their College of Engineering/College of Science received DOE funding to develop hydrogen education materials including an experiment, Thermodynamics of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell, that is now used in a physical chemistry laboratory course required of all chemical engineering, chemistry, and biochemistry majors.  In this new experiment, based on the SERC kits and documentation, students explore the thermodynamics and efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell and compare these results with the performance of the electrolyzer that produces the hydrogen and oxygen used in the fuel cell.

“The availability of the SERC resources has allowed the successful introduction of hydrogen fuel cells to our course with a relatively quick and easy adaptation, and the student response has been very positive,” said Dr. Clayton Baum, professor of chemistry at FIT.

The H2E3 project met its objectives and is no longer receiving financial support from DOE. However, we continue to maintain the project website at and offer the experiment kits and fuel cell test stations for sale. We welcome inquiries from instructors in any field interested in incorporating this hydrogen energy curriculum in your courses.

SERC Delivers Fuel Cell to San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly SLO fuel cell

Cal Poly SLO student with new SERC fuel cell. (Photo Credit SERC)

The Materials Engineering Department at CalPoly San Luis Obispo (SLO) recently purchased a 140 cm2 single cell fuel cell that was designed and produced at SERC. Delivery of the cell to the department occurred last May, but our job did not end there; to facilitate SLO’s foray into fuel cell research, SERC engineer Antonio Reis provided technical expertise and insight into fuel cell research issues by installing and demonstrating the operation of the fuel cell to department faculty and student researchers. Technology transfer to other universities is an important method SERC uses to contribute to the fuel cell research and development arena.