Fuel cells

Computing Services Backup Fuel Cell

A photo of the fuel cell housing

A fuel cell system has been installed in the Davis building to provide back-up power to a computing services server room.  When the power fails, the system starts up automatically.  The system runs on pure hydrogen and produces no air pollutants or greenhouse gases.  This makes the system much more environmentally-friendly than diesel generators which are usually used for backup power.

Leacock Lane Fuel Cells

The Leacock Lane fuel cell project has been decommissioned. Information is provided here for interest and historical purposes only. Photo of fuel cells

UTM's Solid Oxide Fuel Cell facility officially opened on April 19, 2006. It was the first installation of solid oxide fuel cells in a student residence in Canada, and the world's first multi-unit installation. It garnered international attention.

The system included four, 5 kW solid oxide fuel cells. The units were connected to form a "mini-grid" that provided environmentally-friendly electricity, hot water, and space heating for twelve student townhouse residences. The system was also connected to the Ontario power grid, but could operate if the grid goes down, which is beneficial in case of blackouts.

During the first phase of the project, the fuel cells operated on natural gas. During this phase of the project, the main emissions were water and a small amount of carbon dioxide, less than would be produced from using fossil fuels in any other manner. In addition, there were no harmful sulfur or nitrogen emissions from the units. In a later phase of the project, one of the units was converted to run on pure hydrogen supplied by Air Liquide Canada. The only emission when using pure hydrogen is water vapour, making this a clean energy technology. During this time, we collected important data that will be used to further the hydrogen economy in Canada and the world.

Handled properly, hydrogen is actually safer than most conventional fuels. Despite the many fears about hydrogen, it is one of the safest fuels available. Hydrogen is the lightest element - it is twice as light as helium. If you were to fill a balloon with hydrogen and then release it, it would rise twice as fast as a helium balloon. This means that if one of the tanks holding the hydrogen was punctured, the hydrogen would vent from the tank quickly and would disperse into the air extremely quickly, rather than lingering in the area and posing a hazard, like gasoline or natural gas might.

The solid oxide fuel cell project was sponsored by the Government of Canada's Hydrogen Early Adopters Program, UTM, Fuel Cell Technologies Ltd., and Air Liquide Canada.