Tech Park Getting Fuel Cell Upgrade

FuelCell Energy providing units to power entire Innovative Partnership Building.

Hydrogen fuel cells - alternative and clean source of energy.

Fuel cells are a promising direction for cleaner energy, and a team of UConn researchers is working to improve their design (Adobe Stock).

The UConn Tech Park will soon be powered exclusively by clean energy, the result of a partnership between the University and FuelCell Energy.

The Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the Tech Park is partnering with Danbury-based FuelCell Energy on the effort, which aligns with UConn’s clean energy and sustainability ambitions. Over several years, four 250-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cells will be installed for a total of 1 megawatt of power.

“This valuable partnership will help UConn to accomplish two critical goals: utilizing clean and sustainable energy sources to power our campuses as we work toward our carbon neutrality goals, while at the same time providing research and learning opportunities for members of our campus community,” said UConn President Radenka Maric, a world-renowned expert in clean energy engineering. “Ensuring that UConn is as sustainable as possible and supporting research and innovation in the clean energy field is one of the great challenges of our lifetimes.”

The fuel cells will generate enough energy to supply all the Tech Park’s advanced technology laboratories, centers, and institutes. Importantly, the cells produce energy without combustion, generating electricity that is much cleaner than carbon-based sources.

“Innovation requires energy, and our leaders have worked hard to establish an environment where our power needs are met without negatively impacting our carbon footprint,” said Pamir Alpay, UConn’s Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. “The addition of these fuel cell units will sufficiently power the entire Tech Park, UConn’s nexus for research progress. In the process, we move closer to our goal of carbon neutrality without compromising the needs of our partners and centers that call the Tech Park home.”

Installation and Process

FuelCell Energy will complete the IPB project in two phases. After the second phase is complete, the system will be integrated into a building microgrid. Unused power will be exported to the Eversource power grid, according to FuelCell Energy.

The units will be configured to operate in a combined heat and power mode, allowing the University to integrate thermal energy recovery into an existing system within the IRB. UConn researchers will collect data from the fuel cell, analyzing efficiency, cleanliness, and other factors. FuelCell Energy will also provide educational experiences for UConn faculty and students, including lectures, facility tours, and internships.

FuelCell Energy’s President and CEO Jason Few said, “We are excited to work with UConn to support its Innovation Partnership Building and 2030 carbon-neutral goal, and we are proud that our home state school’s leadership in sustainable energy study and adoption.”

Honoring the Commitment

Maric has pledged that UConn will become carbon neutral by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2040. Those goals have transformed the University’s approach to new infrastructure, developed hundreds of research opportunities for faculty and students, and established new programs and initiatives that support development of clean energy and reduce the impact of climate change.

The addition of the new fuel cells also complements goals in the recently adopted UConn Strategic Plan by supporting expanded research and educational opportunities and adding to the wellbeing of the campus and community through its environmental stewardship.

The Depot Campus, which is home to the Center for Clean Energy (C2E2), is already fully powered by fuel cells. This spring, C2E2 received eight solid oxide fuel cell units as a gift from InfraPrime, a company also dedicated to carbon neutrality and eventual carbon negativity.

Discovery Drive on the north end of campus is designated as the Renewable Energy Corridor, with the Tech Park serving as the anchor. UConn’s research and industry collaborations are largely headquartered at the IPB, a state-of-the-art building providing space, interdisciplinary cooperation, and technology for key partners.

Maric has convened a Carbon Reduction Working Group, comprised of UConn leadership, faculty clean energy experts, staff members from schools and colleges, and several undergraduate and postgraduate students. The group tracks data of the University’s consumption of resources, such as energy and water, and supports academic research as well as responsible building practices as UConn continues to expand.

Plans include relocating C2E2 to the Tech Park, where it will take up residence in the IPB. Fuel cells are also planned for installation adjacent to the Putnam Refectory and Werth Residence Tower. Additionally, UConn is increasing the number of charging stations for electronic vehicles and is reviewing bids for construction of solar canopies to be built across 11 parking lots on the Storrs campus.

UConn has a legacy of clean energy and sustainability research and commitment that stretches more than a century. The fuel cell installation is the latest in a series of initiatives and milestones that include contributions to the moon landing and several undergraduate majors.

UConn is partnering with the federal government as well as fellow regional institutes and research universities to establish the Northeast as a leading developer of clean energy technology and to help industries in their decarbonization efforts.

In addition to improving emissions and upholding sustainability standards, the clean energy market is potentially substantial to the economy as a driver of research and employment opportunities.