Sustainable Finance Podcast: The Trigen system produces renewable energy, hydrogen and water

Betsy Schaefer, director of marketing and sustainability at FuelCell Energy, joined The Sustainable Finance Podcast to discuss the Tri-gen system, which produces renewable electricity, hydrogen and water from directed (purified) biogas and aims to significantly reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions.

FuelCell Energy is currently working with Toyota Motor North America in the Port of Long Beach, California, where neighboring communities have been significantly impacted by greenhouse gas emissions from ships, trucks, locomotives and cargo handling equipment for decades.

Founded in 1969 by two scientists interested in energy storage, FuelCell Energy is now a pioneer in clean energy technology and is publicly traded on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.

“Often the first question I get asked,” Schaefer says, “is: What the hell is a fuel cell? In many ways it is like a battery, using an electrochemical reaction to create electricity. . . . A fuel cell is unique in that it uses a continuous fuel source such as biogas, natural gas or hydrogen. In fact, any type of methane-rich fuel can keep the fuel cell running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Because fuel cell technology does not burn fuel, it can provide important solutions to combat climate change, including low-carbon energy and direct capture of carbon dioxide from the air.

“Our fuel cells can be connected to the exhaust stream and capture carbon dioxide directly from a large industrial source. So imagine that you are in an oil refinery or a large steel mill, in a large industrial center. Our technology can. . . capture about 90% of what comes out. And then you can use carbon dioxide – anything from food and beverage manufacturers who use it for carbonation or maybe for cooling, and carbon dioxide is commonly used in medical facilities,” she explained.

Sustainable Finance Podcast: The Trigen system produces renewable energy, hydrogen and water

Hydrogen can be an attractive alternative energy source to electricity, which is difficult to store, and can be used in many industries: for example, vehicle production and municipal sewage treatment plants. FuelCell Energy tackles cost challenges with electrolysis.

“Hydrogen is actually easy to store and can be produced from renewable sources, so when you want to turn it back into electricity, in some cases it is a better way to produce energy on demand. We are developing a technology called electrolysis, thanks to which we are able to produce hydrogen from electricity very efficiently. And this is a big task to solve, because the more efficiently hydrogen can be produced, the cheaper it is.”

FuelCell Energy’s sustainability strategy integrates 12 areas of activity in the environmental, social and management areas throughout the company.

“On the environmental front, we are focused on setting our goals and roadmap for net zero emissions, product performance and safety, product lifecycle and circularity, and a responsible supply chain,” says Schaefer. “Our sustainability strategy is actually owned by the company.”

The story of FuelCell and Toyota’s initiative at the Port of Long Beach Energy shows how the company stays ahead of the curve by scaling innovation, taking calculated risks and collaborating with forward-thinking partners.

“I think with any new technology there is always a certain reluctance to take the first step,” Schaefer says. “The coolest thing about Long Beach is that it’s the second busiest port in the US. Toyota imports approximately 200,000 vehicles a year to this port. . . . Our fuel cells produce renewable energy, hydrogen to power Toyota’s hydrogen fleet, and 1,400 gallons of water per day that Toyota uses to wash its vehicles. This is one of the first district-style hydrogen production plants located where the hydrogen itself is used.”

For more stories about exciting developments in fuel cell technology, check out the full interview with FuelCell Energy’s Betsy Schaefer on The Sustainable Finance podcast.

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