NFCRC In the News . . .Archives

Generating positive energy

UC Irvine, November 1999

Scott Samuelsen, professor of mechanical, aerospace and environmental engineering, is every inch a scientist; his speech is practical, his words measured. Though there is no talk of tree hugging or protest rallies, his environmental idealism burns strong.

For the last thirty years, he has used his scientific background to act as an advocate for environmentally friendly energy systems, bridging the sectors of industry and research university and involving UCI in a worldwide effort to boost awareness of safer and more efficient energy technologies.

His work as director of UCI's National Fuel Cell Resource Center and the Combustion Laboratory, as well as head and founder of the Pacific Rim Energy Consortium on Energy, Combustion and the Environment, is an embodiment of the well-worn environmental slogan, "think globally, act locally."

Since Samuelsen began directing the NFCRC at its 1997 inception, the nonprofit center has created partnerships to advance fuel cell technology for public use with such industrial giants as the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Department of Defense.

"In the last 40 years, automobiles and electricity generation have created environmental impacts that the earth can't absorb-the emergence of the fuel cell will mitigate this trend," he explains. Operating like a battery, the cell converts a fuel like natural gas to electricity in just one step, as opposed to the gas turbine engine-used in electricity-generating power plants-which takes five steps. Extra steps equal greater toxic emissions. Thus, the fuel cell represents not only a more efficient way to use fuel, but also a way to decrease pollution, he says.

Recently Edison International selected NFCRC as the research and development site for an "ultra" efficient electricity generating power plant, a hybrid that will combine a fuel cell with a gas turbine engine. If successful, this type of power plant-the first of its kind in the world- would result in a drastic reduction in pollutants and emissions from greenhouse gasses that are generated by traditional power plants.

Samuelsen quotes the Department of Energy as saying that this is the most important demonstration of an advanced power generation technology in this century.

So why hasn't the fuel cell caught on before now? He illustrates his answer with a story about the Irvine Hyatt fuel cell. Small and unassuming, it has been operating for over five years, quietly providing electricity for much of the hotel.

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