Sierra Nevada says ‘cheers’ to fuel cells
Beer byproducts generating energy? It could happen in Chico.
On March 23, a huge crane lowered four fuel cells onto pads at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., where they were installed in the hopes of cutting energy costs and going easier on the environment.
One day, the cells may even run on “hop power,” said Brian Moreau of Alliance Power. The Littleton, Colo.-based company developed the project and hired an engineering firm to implement it.
Fuel cells are capable of running on methane, which means that byproducts such as grain could be fed to bugs, with the resulting gas powering the plant.
While Sierra Nevada’s fuel cells will still use electricity for now, they’ll do so in a much cleaner way. “This doesn’t burn fuel, it converts it chemically,” Moreau said. “That’s the big environmental benefit it has over generally available technologies.” Pollutants are limited to a small amount of carbon.
Additionally, the brewery’s power bills are expected to be 5 to 10 percent less thanks to the fuel cells.
“We’re committed to being as green a company as possible,” said Steve Harrison, vice president of the brewery. “This is incredibly clean.”
He said brewery owner Ken Grossman, who is always interested in recycling and sparing the environment, decided to make the move to fuel cells when Alliance Power agreed to match the cost of buying a natural-gas turbine.
One day, Sierra Nevada could harness spent yeast and grains in conjunction with its on-site water treatment center to fuel the cells. “Anything organic could be broken down,” Harrison said.
While Harrison isn’t sure how much the brewery is paying out of pocket for the fuel-cell setup (Alliance Power will own the cells for now), Moreau said it’s a $7 million project, made easier thanks to a $2.5 California Public Utilities Commission grant administered by PG&E. Alliance Power covers the installation of such projects and thus wins the contract to deliver the energy.
At 1 megawatt, the Sierra Nevada project counts as one of the smaller ventures into fuel-cell technology. Even so, it will be the largest stationary fuel-cell project in California, Moreau said.
The four cells installed at the brewery were manufactured in Danbury, Conn. The 90,000-pound cells were placed on pads behind the brewery, which is located on East 20th Street.
The cells are remotely operated via the Internet.