Verizon Powers Up Switching Center with Fuel Cells

September 22, 2005 by Jeff Shepard

Telecommunications group Verizon Communications Inc. (New York) has unveiled an alternative energy product at the company's call-routing facility in Garden City, New York, which it built, and is now operating as the largest fuel cell project of its kind in the United States. Verizon has installed seven fuel cells, each of which is capable of generating 200 kW of electrical power per hour. By using electricity from the fuel cells and reclaiming the heat and water they produce to help heat and cool the building, Verizon is eliminating some 11.1 million lbs of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted into the atmosphere by a similar-sized, fossil-fuel-based power plant during one year. The project is expected to save Verizon some $250,000 annually in commercial power costs.

The new fuel cells will use natural gas piped in from a local gas company to obtain the hydrogen atoms for the chemical process. The natural gas is not burned. Instead, the hydrogen atoms are detached from the gas as it is fed into each of the seven cells, and then combined with oxygen atoms from the air to generate direct current electrical power. Heat and water is then vented from each cell, and direct current is converted to alternating current electricity for use in the building.

Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg said, "The fuel cells we are using here today help Verizon provide customers even more reliable communications services, whether for phone calls or high-speed data transmission, and at the same time the power is environmentally friendly and efficiently produced. We now look forward to studying this remarkable technology as it is being used over a period of years on such a large scale for the first time."

Over the past two years a great deal of VC funding has gone into companies developing fuel cell technology. However, this was mostly for companies developing an alternative power source for mobile devices, and certainly not entire structures. The Garden City project is unique because the existing commercial power grid, the new fuel cells and existing Verizon backup power work together to meet any set of operational needs required at the building. They include electrical backup for commercial power outages, natural disasters and periods of peak commercial power demands. Major funding for the project was provided by the US Department of Energy (DOE, Washington, DC). Verizon also expects to receive some funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.