Biogas Offers Organic Option for Energy Savings0

Laurie Stark | Thu Aug 25 2011 |

Sewage, food waste, and methane may not sound like the most appealing concoction, but when the trilogy is heated and agitated in a biogenerator it can be transformed into biogas—a fuel that can not only help businesses reduce carbon emissions, but also save on high energy costs.

Big business loves biogas

NTT America, the U.S. subsidiary of a Global 500 telecommunications company, announced last month that it will begin using biogas-powered fuel cells from California-based Bloom Energy in its San Jose data center, reducing its annual carbon footprint by 1.6 million pounds—the equivalent of planting 4,000 trees a year.

It’s no surprise that biogas-powered fuel cell technology has been embraced by corporations like Google, Coca-Cola, and AT&T. For power-dense data centers, electricity costs can account for more than 10 percent of annual expenses. At eBay headquarters, fuel cells generate 15 percent of the campus’ power, which the company says saved them $100,000 in energy bills in the first year.

Saving money and energy

But some say cost predictions are optimistic. Assuming no maintenance costs and optimum efficiency, Bloom Energy’s fuel cells can produce power at $0.14/kWh, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By contrast, the average U.S. commercial rate is about $0.10/kWh. But Bloom Energy’s CEO, KR Sridhar, says with long-term natural gas contracts and government incentives, the price for customers will be below $0.07/kWh.

In June, a bill passed in Delaware reclassifying fuel cells as a renewable energy resource, allowing companies in that state to use the cells in place of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar.

While some are turned off by the fact these cells still use fossil fuels and produce greenhouse gases, they don’t require the use of precious metals and hydrogen fuel cells emit 30 percent to 60 percent less carbon than a traditional power plant. AT&T estimates their use will reduce the company’s carbon emissions by 250 million pounds, the equivalent of taking nearly 4,000 cars off the road.