Green Building Report
March 2003 - Green
Fuel Cells Show Promise as Greener Power Source
While fuel cell technology has long held the promise of providing greater energy efficiency while reducing emissions, until recently the economics of employing fuel cells often proved to be an obstacle to getting projects approved. Now, in certain industries where there is demand for heat and power, fuel cell technology has advanced to a point where it may begin to compete with other energy sources. Verizon shows that the technology can be cost effective where power quality is of utmost importance. The company plans to install seven phosphoric acid fuel cells at its 332,000-square-foot, Garden City, N.Y, facility, which is currently under design. Initial engineering studies conclude that the initial project cost would be recovered within five to six years based on offset electric costs and recovered waste heat.
Fuel Cell Principle
A fuel cell is an electrochemical system that consumes fuel to produce an electrical current. In simpler language, a fuel cell converts hydrogen from natural gas via a chemical process into direct current electricity, with heat and water as byproducts. An integral inverter changes the direct current to alternating current for transmission into the facility’s electrical distribution systems. Compared to utility power generation, fuel cells offer the advantage of being more environmentally friendly, with reduced emissions.
Fuel Cell Types
There are four main types of fuel cells, classified by the type of electrolytes that produce the chemical process: phosphoric acid, proton-exchange membrane, sulfuric acid and molten carbonate. For commercial real estate applications, a 200-kilowatt (kw), 480-volt, 3-phase phosphoric acid fuel cell is commercially available and has more than 1 million hours of operating experience, according to the company that makes the fuel cell. Most fuel cells have an energy efficiency of 37 to 40 percent for power generation only; efficiency can increase to more than 80 percent if the generated waste heat is used for facility heating, cooling or process demands.
For a single 200-kw phosphoric acid fuel cell, annual emission of pollutants is reduced by 40,000 pounds as compared to traditional combustion plants, and carbon dioxide emissions for the fuel cell itself are reduced by 56 percent, or more than 2.4 million pounds per year. Most fuel cells, however, require reformers, which break natural gas down into hydrogen. Reformers do release substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. But because fuel cells are more efficient than traditional power plants, they release less carbon dioxide — on a watt-for-watt comparison.
A fuel cell’s primary drawback is its installed cost. For this project, the cost is $4,500 per kw. Federal and state governments offer subsidies that will cover $1,000 per kW or more of the cost.
The fuel cells planned for the Verizon facility are expected to be fully operational in 2004. They will operate in parallel with four new natural-gas-powered engine generators, totaling more than 4 megawatts of generating capacity. The fuel cells and engine generators will provide the electricity required for the entire facility; commercial electrical power and Verizon’s existing turbine generators and batteries will remain as backups to achieve power reliability in excess of 99.999 percent.
This may be the first hybrid fuel cell and power generating system, and this facility may be the largest fuel cell deployment in the world. Verizon is receiving technical and financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of New York.
The Verizon fuel cells and natural gas generators will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 400 homes.
Jon Hettinger is an associate partner with Syska Hennessy Group, a consulting, engineering and construction firm, which designed the Verizon fuel cell installation.
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Lack of good science hurts IEQ study
An extensive review of research on indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in schools indicates that there’s a connection between low ventilation rates and nitrogen oxides in the air and a negative impact on students’ performance. Perhaps the review’s strongest conclusion, however, is that there just isn’t enough good research yet on IEQ and student performance to form any solid conclusions.
Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Garvin Heath, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, undertook the review at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s request and were quickly struck by the paucity of good data.
“Basically there’s not much science out there,” Mendell says. “Much of what passes as studies comes from educational researchers, and those studies are not very good.”
Many of the studies that Mendell and Heath looked at were not published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at conferences, two major criteria for the review. Most resembled dissertations and failed to account for any number of variables, the researchers noted.
The strongest studies looked at measured pollutants, Mendell says. These studies showed a direct connection to high amounts of nitrogen oxides and increased incidences of absenteeism. The high amounts of nitrogen oxides seem to be attributed to unvented heaters.
Low ventilation rates, which the researchers say might be a serious problem in schools across the country, were shown to affect student performance. The researchers used ASHRAE standards as their guide.
The review also found significant indirect evidence that links mold, moisture and microbiological activity to asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Less clear was the effect of volatile organic compounds (VOC) on performance. Four studies showed a relationship. Two were strong and two were weak. The two strong studies did not show a relationship between a cocktail of VOCs and performance; the two weak studies did.
Based on the weaknesses of the two studies, he says, no conclusion could be made on the impact of VOCs.
Even the results of temperature on performance are mixed, largely owing to personal responses to temperature, Mendell says.
The reviewers, which began narrowly focusing on schools, performance and IEQ, broadened their search to find a sufficient database to draw any conclusions. Studies weren’t included if the sample size was too small and if only one parameter was considered while not accounting for other variables. After weeding out studies that didn’t meet their criteria, the researchers rated the studies from strong to weak and only considered the strong studies. The literature review has not been published yet.
— David Kozlowski is senior editor with Building Operating Management
States may raid energy funds
Lawmakers’ concerns over how to balance their state’s budgets have put funds earmarked to promote the efficient use and clean production of energy at risk.
The Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, reports that Massachusetts has a plan to narrow a state deficit by using funds identified to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable fuels. The state faces a 2004 budget of $2 billion, and lawmakers have floated the idea of using $160 million of the fund.
Similar measures have been talked about in Wisconsin and Connecticut. The group says Connecticut’s public benefit fund of $117 million is at risk. In Wisconsin, lawmakers avoided using as much as $38 million of that state’s public benefit fund to offset a budget deficit this year, but plans to raid the fund have resurfaced.
California heeds energy-use warnings
California business and residents reduced the state’s peak demand by 3,000 to 5,500 megawatts during the summer of 2001, helping the area to avoid blackouts.
An analysis by researchers in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, among other factors, increased public awareness, energy price increases and various state and utility rebate programs contributed to consumers reducing their energy requirements.
The study’s authors note that consumers reduced peak-demand use by installing energy-efficient equipment, using on-site generation and modifying their electricity consumption habits and patterns.
Codes stymie green design
Existing building codes hamper the growth of green buildings by preventing facilities from being built with alternative designs and materials.
That’s the finding of a survey conducted by the Development Center for Appropriate Technologies (DCAT), a nonprofit organization that, among other things, promotes sustainable buildings.
Sixty-five percent of facility design and construction practitioners have decided not to use a green alternative because they expected it would not get approved, according to the survey, “Breaking Down the Barriers: Challenges and Solutions to Code Approval of Green Building.”
In addition, the survey found that applications for green products, materials, systems, or designs are avoided because supporting information will take too long to acquire or does not exist.
Based on those results, DCAT suggests facility practitioners can help applications for green alternative strategies gain approval by:
- Providing sufficient supporting information about the alternative green product, design or material.
- Establishing a strong communication link with code officials early in the process.
- Providing contact information with other knowledgeable building officials.
- Resubmitting denied applications with additional supporting information.
Council recognizes leadership
The U.S. Green Building Council honored four recipients with Leadership Awards for their contribution to green buildings. Award recipients were:
- Gov. George Pataki of New York for his policies that advanced green buildings and USGBC’s LEED rating system. He also led the state’s efforts to provide tax deductions for certain green building expenses.
- Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Inc., for incorporating environmental efficiency into his business practices.
- Rob Watson, director of the International Energy Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, for his role in spearheading the development of LEED.
- Pliny Fisk, cofounder of the nonprofit Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, for focusing attention on the use of appropriate technology.
New green group takes root
Nine countries comprising a federation of green building councils launched the World Green Building Council to provide a network where countries can collaborate and aggregate ideas on green buildings and sustainability.
In addition to the United States, other countries involved are Australia, Spain, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, India and Korea.
The new group also aims to provide assistance to other countries interested in developing green building councils, says Rick Fedrizzi, founding chairman of USGBC.
Rusty Cleveland turning green
Cleveland — that Rust Belt city where the Cuyahoga River was once so polluted that it caught fire — is making efforts to live up to the city’s nickname: The Forest City.
Environmental advocates formed EcoCity Cleveland with the aim of turning the city into a showcase for sustainable architecture and balanced urban development.
Initially, the group is attempting to establish public support and get ideas on how the city can improve its waterfront, manage land use and promote sustainable design principles for use in buildings.
The group has a head start on the latter point in that the area’s public school system is designing green renovation plans for facilities. The city also is writing green building standards and a zoning plan that takes the environment into consideration.
Other efforts include expanding the city’s hiking and biking trails, opening public access to Lake Erie by revamping the city’s highway traffic pattern and bringing sustainable design principles to the city hall building.
Battery Park Tower Offers Breath of Fresh Air
New York City — Residents of this city may have noticed a new addition to its skyline. But this isn’t your father’s skyscraper: The Solaire is the country’s first green residential high-rise, as well as the first new residential construction in the Battery Park area of New York since Sept. 11. Topping out at 27 floors, the facility is the first of a handful of green residential buildings to be built on this 92 acres of land located at the tip of lower Manhattan.
The 380,00-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and Associates, was built to the exacting standards required by the New York state green building tax credit, which passed in 2000, and the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA)’s green guidelines, also established in 2000. The New York state tax credit for environmentally sustainable commercial and apartment buildings allows owners to deduct a portion cost for green construction directly from their tax bill. Buildings that meet the energy guidelines and use environmentally preferable materials can claim up to $3.75 per square foot for interior space and $7.50 per square foot for exterior work.
The tax credit program and the Battery Park environmental guidelines require that buildings be 30 percent more energy efficient and let in 30 percent more natural light than required by state and city codes. Buildings are also required to use 10 percent less water than outlined in the 1992 federal Energy Policy Act.
“We saw this as a great challenge and a great opportunity to develop a building like this,” says Russell Albanese, president of Albanese Development. “This is the first residential project taking such a holistic approach. We felt like there would be strong consumer demand and preference for these kinds of features.”
So what kinds of features does the facility offer? Daylight sensors control light levels; occupancy sensors switch lights on and off. The facility has 3,400 square feet of photovoltaic panels on the west facade, which meet 5 percent of the building’s electric load. Low-e windows save heating and cooling costs.
Natural-gas-fired absorption chillers and variable speed pumps, motors and fans increase the efficiency of the cooling and heating system. A centralized air system filters air and humidifies or dehumidifies it, depending on the season. Formaldehyde-free and low- or no-VOC off-gassing products were used throughout the building. And an air quality profile is taken both when someone moves in and when someone moves out.
The facility’s energy strategies will result in a 67 percent reduction in electric energy use during peak demand hours.
Internal water systems reduce the building’s total water use by 50 percent. A wastewater treatment system resupplies toilets and provides make-up water for the cooling tower. A green roof covers 5,000 square feet of the facility. For residents’ use, the garden is designed to retain some storm water, and any other needed water comes from stored storm water in the basement. And more than 75 percent of site construction waste materials were recycled.
A commissioning plan is in place to ensure that the building functions as it was designed.
With regard to qualifying for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating, Albanese notes that the building “is within the range of a gold rating — but we’re aiming for platinum.” They will apply for the rating after the completion of the facility this spring.
Currently, there are about 100 people on a waiting list; the leasing office will open in March.
Albanese knows that the facility will be scrutinized in several areas. “The building will help chart the course for future buildings in terms of energy efficiency, IAQ and environmental benefits.” He is also hoping that other developers, but New Yorkers in particular where issues with peak electric loads exist, will take notice. “We hope that municipalities, utility companies and politicians can see that there is a way to lower peak electric demand rather than building new power plants,” says Albanese.
— Angela Maas is managing editor with Building Operating Management
U.S. Green Building Council
Steve Winter, FAIA
Steven Winter Associates
Kath Williams, EdD
Montana State University
Herman Miller Inc.
Global Green USA
S. Richard Fedrizzi
David A. Gottfried
WorldBuild Technology Inc.
Michael L. Italiano
Institute for Market
Transformation to Sustainability
U.S. Green Building Council
1015 18th St., NW Ste. 805
Washington, DC 20036