Food and Beverage Processing

Fuel cell power plants convert waste challenges into ultra-clean energy solutions for food and beverage processors

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DFC power plant at a food processor

Food and beverage processors continuously generate a large volume of biomass that requires disposal, often in a controlled manner dictated by clean air regulations and greenhouse gas emission limitations. Disposing of the biomass in an anaerobic digester reduces the mass significantly, lowering tipping or disposal fees. The food and beverage processors must then dispose of the methane, or biogas, produced by the biomass. Venting the biogas, a harmful greenhouse gas, directly into the atmosphere is generally prohibited, and flaring the biogas emits pollutants and wastes a potential source of revenue.

By using the biogas as a fuel source, Direct FuelCell® (DFC®) power plants can economically and efficiently convert the biogas into ultra-clean electricity and usable high quality heat, thereby converting a waste disposal problem into multiple revenue streams. Due to the renewable nature of biogas, power generated by the fuel cells is classified as carbon-neutral power generation, while converting waste into biogas for generating ultra-clean power and heat supports sustainability initiatives.

Heat exchangers harvest heat produced by the fuel cells, which can be used to produce steam or supplied to the digester to support the anaerobic digestion process. The ability to generate steam also enables absorption chilling applications. Combined heat and power (CHP) configurations can result in system efficiencies of up to 90 percent, depending on the specific application.

Numerous Other Benefits

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DFC power plant at a brewery

Fuel flexible DFC power plants can be located where biogas is generated and directly use the biogas with only minimal gas clean-up requirements. Biogas contains humidity, sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2). Prior to being used as a fuel source for the DFC, the humidity and sulfur must be removed, but the DFC technology does not require the removal of the CO2. This is a cost advantage, as pipeline-quality biogas, also referred to as “directed biogas,” must have the CO2 removed prior to being injected in the gas pipeline, an energy-intensive process that adds cost.

Food and beverage processors may experience fluctuations in the quantity of biogas being produced. Blending biogas with natural gas compensates for variable levels of production. FuelCell Energy has expertise with automatically blending these fuel sources as needed, to ensure a consistent and reliable supply of power.

Generating clean electricity on-site with DFC power plants enhances energy security and power reliability for food and beverage processors, attributes that are particularly valued by processors that operate around-the-clock.

In many regions, financial incentives are available for installing ultra-clean distributed generation with CHP capabilities, such as stationary fuel cell power plants. These and the numerous other benefits of DFC power plants make them an economical and efficient power generation solution.