City experiments
with energy

Kapolei Hale will use hydrogen and
solar technology, and expects
to save money

Electricity-generating projects are under way at Kapolei Hale using hydrogen and solar power.

And the city will save money, too, said Steve Holmes, the city's energy and sustainability coordinator.

A generator -- powered by hydrogen and propane -- will be across the parking lot from Kapolei Hale this fall and will supply more than half of the building's electricity needs. And the system will use excess heat from the fuel combustion to help cool the building.

The Kapolei system will be just like its sister generator that was plugged into Honolulu Hale in March, Holmes said.

But the Kapolei machine will be specially fitted to burn 30 percent hydrogen as fuel, making it the largest commercial use of hydrogen as fuel in the state, said Richard Rocheleau, director of the University of Hawaii's Natural Energy Institute. The hydrogen will be mixed with propane.

While the city uses the generator to help run Kapolei Hale, researchers with the institute will study how hydrogen performs as a fuel, as well as ways of transporting and storing it, Rocheleau said.

"Kapolei is an important project in that it gets us familiar with using hydrogen and lets us explore its use in a commercial type of setting," he said.

Hydrogen is seen by many as the fuel of the future, since it is the world's most common element. Hydrogen in nature bonds with other elements, most notably with oxygen to form water and with carbon atoms to form the hydrocarbons that are the building block of fossil fuels, said Mitch Ewan, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute's hydrogen systems program manager.

For the first few years, the Kapolei generator will be supplied with hydrogen by local petroleum refineries. Meanwhile, Ewan said, institute researchers will continue to work on two ways to produce hydrogen from renewable resources:

» Using wind power to break down water to produce hydrogen and oxygen.

» Using a biomass fuel, such as sugar bagasse, to create ethanol, out of which hydrogen can be isolated.

"Mayor (Jeremy) Harris is a real leader. He has a vision of the future," Ewan said. "He said, 'This is the right thing to do, we need to do it.' Oil is not going to get much cheaper."

Also coming this fall to the Kapolei Hale parking lot will be a solar canopy, recently purchased by the city from PowerLight for $445,000, said Tim Steinberger, director of the Department of Design and Construction.

The array of photovoltaic panels will produce electricity while shading cars from the hot Ewa sun.

Between the co-generation project and the solar panels, the city can expect to see significant energy cost savings at Kapolei -- even before paying off the project costs, Holmes said.

At Honolulu Hale a combination of energy-efficiency upgrades made during the last two years and the generator has dropped electricity demand 70 percent, Holmes said.



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