20-0129 Methanol Fuel Cell for Backup Power

Question

We are working on a 40,000 sf office project in California for a global IT and procurement company pursuing Zero Energy certification. The building will host functions critical to the global success of the company. The area is prone to frequent power outages and rolling blackouts due to natural disaster issues such as the recent wildfires. As such, emergency backup is needed to protect the sensitive information stored on the building's servers and to keep critical functions running.
For this project, we are proposing the use of two 2.5 kW direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) for emergency backup power for the building's server cooling systems, security systems, and emergency lighting only. This system will consist of two DMFCs, 500-amp battery bank at 48 volts, 150 kva DC/AC inverter, and 55-gallon fuel tank.
The fuel source for these fuel cells are water and methanol, a bio-based fuel. No fossil fuels will be used.
Exhaust by-products of DMFCs are as follows:
Liquid Effluent (by volume):
• Water: 99.7%
• Methanol: <6.0%
• Volume: 300 ml/hr
Gas Effluent (by volume):
• Air (mostly nitrogen): 94%
• CO2: <6.0%
• Volume: 380 l/min (13.4 cfm)
All components will be provided in an outdoor cabinet by the manufacturer and per local Authority requirements. As such, these DMFCs will not impact adjacent properties through noise. The operating noise of these modules is < 70dB, approximately equivalent to the noise produced by a vacuum cleaner.
Is this an acceptable renewable energy to use for powering backup systems in lieu of propane or natural gas as it uses a 100% bio-based and renewable fuel source and cannot use a non-renewable energy fuel source?

Answer

Per 19-0311 Emergency Generator on Campus, projects pursuing Zero Energy Certification, which has no back-up energy requirement, may use a combustion-based back-up system for emergency power. While it uses a fuel, the cell technology for the proposed emergency back-up system does not involve combustion, and will result in lower carbon emissions than would a combustion-based system. Because it offers superior emission performance to what would be allowed under the referenced Dialogue ruling, the proposed methanol fuel cell is an acceptable source of emergency back-up power.

In its systems documentation, the project team must submit a narrative explaining the need for backup power, particularly with regard  to the project’s size and function, and describing what efforts were made to reduce the size of the system and prevent its use in non-emergency circumstances. 

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