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Quad-generation project uses fuel cell to produce power, heat, hydrogen, and CO2 for greenhouse in Canada

The first renewable energy quad-generation project to be realised for a greenhouse operation using fuel cell technology is about to get under way in Greater Vancouver. The ground-breaking for the facility will take place on 2 April at Village Farms’ greenhouse in Delta, British Columbia.

Greenhouse operator Village Farms International is collaborating with Quadrogen Power Systems, FuelCell Energy, and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in a C$7.5 million (US$6.8 million) project that will enable the commercial production of renewable heat and food-grade CO2 that will benefit the Village Farms greenhouse in Delta, along with electricity and hydrogen for additional commercial markets.

For the last 10 years Village Farms has been using renewable landfill gas as an additional or alternative heat source to natural gas in its Canadian greenhouse facilities. The heat is supplied from a cogeneration power plant that is owned and operated by Maxim Power Inc, located on the Village Farms property.

‘Cogeneration is a feel-good success story, because it takes landfill methane gas that would have been burned onsite at the landfill, and instead turns a waste product into a viable heat source that is safe for people and plants,’ explains Jonathan Bos, Development Director at Village Farms.

He continues: ‘This new project is even more advanced and cutting edge, as it will be the first demonstration of not only heat supply for the greenhouse, but also food-grade CO2 that is generated from the landfill gas via a fuel cell.’

The landfill gas will be cleaned by an innovative system designed and built by Quadrogen Power Systems, and then used by the stationary molten carbonate fuel cell power plant built by FuelCell Energy to generate the multiple value streams including electricity, heat, and hydrogen. The fuel cell utilises a highly efficient electrochemical process to generate power while avoiding the emission of virtually any pollutants, due to the absence of combustion.

Village Farms will be the sole user to benefit from the CO2 stream and hot water coming directly from the fuel cell. Once operational, Village Farms will seek to increase the output of renewable CO2 and in addition, seek to further utilise the technology in future developments at new locations or in other markets.

There are numerous potential benefits of this new technology, both for Village Farms and for the environment at large. First, landfill gas will be eliminated from the waste stream, helping to reduce the City of Vancouver’s overall carbon footprint. The reduced carbon footprint will be mirrored by Village Farms as the end-user of this waste stream, helping the company reduce its need for fossil fuels.

Furthermore, since the food-grade CO2 is used by the plants as a nutrient in the photosynthesis process, the plants then convert the CO2 to oxygen (O2), which creates another primary benefit for the environment. This will also allow further efficiencies for Village Farms by reducing overall costs, and enhancing the use of CO2, which is attributable for approximately 25% of a plant’s yield.

‘The quad-generation project will be a game changer in the existing arena for the renewable landfill gas market at large,’ says Alakh Prasad, President and CEO of Quadrogen, who has worked with Village Farms over the last five years to see this project come to fruition. ‘We are pleased Village Farms will be at the forefront of this ground-breaking technological advancement in green technology, as the first demonstrated user for quad-generation fuel cell technology.’

‘This project is analogous to our water conservation, land preservation, and soilless growing methods that are highly resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable,’ adds Helen L. Aquino, Marketing Manager for Village Farms. ‘The conversion of landfill gas to clean food-grade CO2 for the plants, who then convert the gas to oxygen, is creating what amounts to a ‘carbon negative’ waste stream.’

Quadrogen Power Systems designs and builds reliable, cost-effective clean-up systems for a wide variety of gaseous fuel applications. The clean-up technologies are modular and scalable to cost-effectively purify landfill gas, digester gas, or syngas.

Two years ago, FuelCell Energy signed a memorandum of understanding with Air Products to work towards the market development of stationary Direct FuelCell® power plants that simultaneously produce hydrogen, ultra-clean electricity, and usable high-quality heat. FuelCell Energy and Air Products have collaborated on a sewage-to-hydrogen fuel cell plant for Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) in Fountain Valley, California working with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.

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Bioenergy  •  Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Green building