Humboldt State University

Schatz Energy Research Center

Collaborations with Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory

For several years SERC enjoyed a fruitful working relationship with the Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory (AETDL) at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF). AETDL shares many research interests with SERC, particularly fuel cell systems for use in remote locations. Two important projects came out of the SERC/AETDL collaboration.

Rural Alaska Power Project

The Rural Alaska Power Project was a collaborative effort of SERC, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory (AETDL) based at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF), and Teledyne-Brown Engineering’s Energy Systems division. This self-contained fuel cell system was designed to provide all the electric power necessary for a remote, off-grid household in rural Alaska.

The system consisted of two forty-cell, 300-cm2 stacks with a total output capacity of 3 kW, plus auxiliary subsystems, including an inverter, air blowers, a cooling system, and a control and monitoring system featuring automated safety shutdowns, all mounted inside a welded steel pallet on casters. Hydrogen gas was supplied externally from compressed gas storage cylinders.

The system was designed and built by SERC in early 2000 and was subsequently tested and qualified by a team of engineers from AETDL. Due to lack of funds in the later phase of the program, the system was never installed for testing in its intended setting in Alaska. However, it performed extremely well and served to demonstrate the feasibility of using fuel cells as a home power supply.

The SERC staff poses around a fuel cell power system.

Schatz team shows off the completed 3kW fuel cell power system.

Methanol-fired Fuel Cell

Front view of the 1kW methanol-fired fuel cell system.

Front view of the 1kW methanol-fired fuel cell system.

In 2003, SERC initiated a project with the Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory (AETDL) based at University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) to develop a PEM fuel cell system to be used as an off-grid household-scale power system at a site in Alaska.

All previous SERC projects were powered by pure hydrogen, either generated at the point of use using an electrolyzer or purchased from a commercial supplier. For this project, the system’s input fuel was methanol, from which hydrogen is derived using an on-site IdaTech FPM-20 reformer. This system design choice was made after considering the availability of different fuels in rural Alaska, their compatibility with hydrogen reformers, and their associated emissions.

The reformer consumed approximately two liters of methanol per hour to produce its rated output of 20 standard liters per minute of hydrogen at greater than 99.9% purity. The fuel cell system produced 1 kW of grid quality AC power. The system performed well during testing by both SERC and AETDL engineers, but as with the 3kW system described above, a lack of funding prevented the system from being installed and tested at its long-term test site.

The SERC staff poses around a fuel cell power system.

Dennis Witmer, Director of UAF’s Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory, and University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Marshall Lind discuss the newly installed methanol-fired fuel cell system.
Photo by Eric Engman - Fairbanks Daily News Miner