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The University of Maryland team accepted the award for the best combined heat, hydrogen, and power system design at the World Hydrogen Energy Conference (WHEC) in Toronto. | Photo courtesy of Jennie Moton.

The University of Maryland team accepted the award for the best combined heat, hydrogen, and power system design at the World Hydrogen Energy Conference (WHEC) in Toronto. | Photo courtesy of Jennie Moton.

How do you combine urban waste, hydrogen, and heat recovery into one power system?

A team of University of Maryland undergraduate and graduate engineering students designed a solution to this question as part of the Hydrogen Student Design Contest -- a competition supported by the Energy Department to challenge university students to design hydrogen energy applications for real-world use. With a different theme every year, this year’s contest required teams to plan and design a combined heat, hydrogen, and power (CHHP) system (also known as a “tri-generation” system) for their university campus using local resources.

The Maryland team, which won for its tri-generation design, had to think creatively to overcome a challenge associated with its campus’s urban location. During the first phase of the contest -- developing a feedstock analysis -- the students realized their campus didn’t have enough waste to produce sufficient energy for the fuel cell system design. As an innovative solution, they opted to use waste from the nearby City of College Park in addition to their campus source to feed their CHHP design.  

Once the team had enough waste to meet the CHHP system feedstock requirements, the students had to decide how to most efficiently use it as part of the contest’s second phase. The Maryland team combined an anaerobic digester to process organic waste and a gasifier to process inorganic waste to produce methane gas for the fuel cell. The team also included a heat recovery steam generator to capture the heat produced by the gasifier and fuel cell. The captured heat would be used to create steam and fed into the existing heating and cooling system on campus, cutting the university’s natural gas use.

The team’s design also includes using the hydrogen produced by the fuel cell to power the university’s large shuttle bus system. The students estimate their CHHP system would produce enough hydrogen to power 20 fuel cell electric buses, helping displace about 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

While the team doesn’t have plans for implementing the design, the students hope it will lay the groundwork for the University of Maryland’s Facilities Management to introduce a similar waste-to-energy system on campus that would help the university reduce energy usage and improve its environmental footprint.