Celling a New Source of Energy

Sometimes it seems there is no solution to skyrocketing energy costs. However, Pepperidge Farm may have discovered an alternative source to reduce the amount of electricity it uses in its Bloomfield, Conn., facility.
When Pepperidge Farm was building the Bloomfield plant four years ago, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CCEF) approached the baking company about the possibility of installing a fuel cell in the plant. CCEF is administered by Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public organization that’s using the clean energy fund to promote the development and commercialization of clean energy technologies.
At that time, however, Pepperidge Farm was more interested in getting the plant up and running than in the exploration of experimental power sources. That’s when CCEF found a third party — Pennsylvania Power & Light — that wanted to install, own and operate the fuel cell.
Produced by FuelCell Energy of Torrington, Conn., the fuel cell has been operational for three years now and is proven to be reliable and environmentally clean versus internal combustion engines or gas turbines for power generation, according to Tom Rieth, manager of Environmental Engineering for Pepperidge Farm. In addition to saving electricity, the system also provides thermal efficiencies and some environmental benefits.
In 2008, FuelCell Energy is installing a larger fuel cell that will be owned by Pepperidge Farm and partially funded by CCEF. Rieth notes that the installation is the result of the deregulation of electrical utilities in Connecticut, which has caused the price of power to become the highest in the nation.
To find out more about this fascinating technology, the American Society of Baking asked Rieth about the program and how it works, as well the possibility for its widespread use in the baking industry. Here’s what he has to say about the program.
ASB: What factors made you decide it was a good idea to test out fuel cell technology? What, if any, were the possible downsides to such a program?
Tom Rieth: Because PP&L owns the first fuel cell, which was funded by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund as a test unit, the risks to Pepperidge Farm were minimal. The company bought the natural gas fuel and provided an installation site. PP&L operates and maintains the fuel cell, and sells power back to the company at $0.03 kilowatt an hour (kWh). Once running, the fuel cell has proven to be very reliable. The plant even forgets that the unit is running due to its low noise and air emissions.
ASB: How does it work? How much electricity will you save?
Rieth: The DFC1500MB power plant uses carbonate fuel cell technology, which operates at higher temperatures and allows natural gas to be used without an external reforming system. The DFC1500MB power plant takes advantage of this by reforming the hydrocarbon fuel into hydrogen directly in the fuel cell stacks. The anode exhaust gas is then combined with fresh air and oxidized in a catalytic oxidizer on route to the cathodes. Cathode exhaust gases leave the fuel cell stack modules and are utilized to provide heat energy for the incoming natural gas. The exhaust is then used as input energy for Combined Heat and Power applications.
When it’s up and running, the new fuel cell will generate 10,512 megawatt hours (MWh) per year. This amount, combined with the existing fuel cell, will supply 70% of the power to the Bloomfield plant. Moreover, the thermal efficiency of the new Combined Heat and Power application is expected to reach 67%.
ASB: How affordable are fuel cells? Would you also give us an idea of the rate of return and money that it saves?
Rieth: Fuel cells are extremely expensive at the present time, running approximately $4,600 per kilowatt (kW) installed. They would not be economically feasible without outside funding. That said, the new fuel cell is expected to generate $1.2 million annually in savings, netting $670,000 a year after operating costs. As a result, the rate of return after the CCEF grant was greater than 30%.
ASB: What type of funding did you get from CCEF? Do you also receive any other tax breaks, etc.? Would you have installed fuel cells without such funding?
Rieth: Connecticut Clean Energy Fund awarded Pepperidge Farm a grant of $3.5 million toward the purchase and installation of the fuel cell. The Federal Internal Revenue Code provides for a 30% energy credit for any taxable year when the fuel cell is placed into service. Fuel cells are classified as five-year MACRS (modified accelerated cost-recovery system) property thus allowing for faster depreciation. However, the technology would not be economically feasible without outside funding.
ASB: How has fuel cell technology changed since you installed the first one?
Rieth: The basic design and module configuration has been improved leading to faster and lower cost installation.
ASB: Do you plan to roll out the fuel cell program to other bakeries or in other Campbell Soup facilities? Is this part of a greater sustainability program?
Rieth: Currently, Connecticut is the only state with a significant financial incentive for clean energy. As the demand for more clean energy increases, states will increasingly be asked to help share in the cost. California and Florida already have some minor grants for clean energy. It is only a matter of time before they increase their grants to encourage better participation.
The fuel cell will be a major part of the Campbell Soup Company sustainability program. It has greatly reduced carbon dioxide and NOX (nitrogen oxide) emissions while being less expensive to provide power for the plant. The fuel cell has been ruled by the CT-DEP (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection) that an air permit will not be necessary due its extremely low emission levels.
ASB: Are fuel cells for everyone? What type of facilities would benefit most?
Rieth: Fuel cells are only good for base load power generation. They do not take well to varying power loads. They are most efficient and have longer life when used with a constant full power load. They are only feasible for facilities with a large constant base load such as “around the clock” factories, hospitals and schools.
ASB: Would you describe other ways in which you are exploring alternative sources to reduce energy and/or fuel usage?
Rieth: Campbell Soup Co. is already exploring new Renewable/Alternative Energy Initiatives that can be used throughout the company. The current investigations include:
•Two plants are presently steam hosts for co-gen facilities. The company is looking to expand the number of locations.
•Investigating use of fuel cells. The two units will be evaluated in Bloomfield. Campbell Soup Co. will, if additional state funding can be found in other the states, expand the installations using the experience and results from the Bloomfield installation.
•Evaluating solar panel technology. This field is in its infancy as a major player for industrial power generation. The company will continue to evaluate.
ASB: Do companies have a corporate responsibility today to search for alternative or clean sources of energy? Or is it just good PR to do something like this?
Rieth: We are looking to increase shareholder value with a goal of zero safety and environmental incidents as we decrease raw material and energy inputs into our products and reduced emissions at our manufacturing sites. We must never forget that we are a business, and our first job is to create value for our shareholders. Sustainable growth means creating value for our shareholders and for society by developing products that the market demands — and which also are good for the environment and for the health, safety and well-being of people everywhere. SF&WB
Editor’s Note: Alternative fuels, lowering energy cost and going green are some of the critical issues that will be explored at the ASB’s BakeTech Conference, which will run March 2-5 in Chicago. Register now at www.ASBE.org, or call 1-866-920-9885.