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Posted on  

October 17, 2003

Aventine to test ethanol use in fuel cells

By Sharon Woods Harris
Times staff writer

PEKIN -- In medieval times, alchemists labored unsuccessfully to turn lead into gold.

Today, a demonstration project at Aventine Renewable Energy Inc. in Pekin that uses ethanol to power fuel cells might one day turn Illinois corn fields into gold mines for farmers across the state.

Aventine, in conjunction with Caterpillar Inc., and Nuvera Fuel Cells of Cambridge, Mass., was asked by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct the $2.5 million demonstration project that is funded in part by the State of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The components arrived Friday and should be assembled by Nov. 1.

The demonstration project will be conducted in a new special building at Aventine. Aventine will use its ethanol to power a Nuvera fuel cell for 4,000 hours -- or about six months. Caterpillar Inc. will provide a power converter to convert the direct current from the fuel cell to an alternating current so it can be used as a power source. The companies would like to run uninterrupted for that time period, but expect some breakdowns.

"Aventine's part is to provide the site for the demonstration and the fuel, which will be ethanol for this demonstration, which makes it the first of a kind in the nation because it's the first commercial demonstration using ethanol as a fuel in a stationary application," said Gary K. Welch, Aventine technical support manager. "The unit will produce about 10 to 15 kilowatts.

"If you had a fuel cell to run your house and it would provide all your electricity, heat, air-conditioning and everything -- that would be in the 5 to 7 kilowatt range. Fifteen kilowatts is enough electricity for a couple of houses. The goal is to run this 4,000 hours uninterrupted, and things will go wrong like they always do ... And we will prove that the system is reliable and to prove that ethanol is a viable fuel."

The test has even broader implications as researchers work to develop a new generation of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, said Phil Shane, marketing development director for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

"If ethanol can make hydrogen for electricity, it certainly will work for transportation, too. That would be the bigger market, for sure," Shane said.

The test program would use ethanol to generate about 15 kilowatts of electricity by the end of the year at Aventine Renewable Energy Inc., a Pekin ethanol plant.

Federal and state grants will fund the experiment, along with contributions from Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. and Nuvera Fuel Cells of Cambridge, Mass.

The test is among many fuel cell research projects funded by Caterpillar, the world's largest supplier of power generation equipment, said company spokesman Carl Volz.

Source: Pekin Daily Times and The Associated Press



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