Schatz Lab Part of $1.75 Million Clean Energy Project

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority in Eureka is the proposed recipient of $1.75 million in state funding for a community-scale renewable energy implementation project, in partnership with Humboldt State’s Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC).

The clean energy initiative includes a biomass power system at Blue Lake Rancheria, community-wide energy upgrades throughout the Mad River Valley Region and electric vehicle infrastructure.

The contract for the project is expected to be signed in June.

The grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) is aimed at enabling local renewable resources to supply electricity at competitive rates. The $1.75 million grant comes from the CEC’s Public Interest Energy Research Program.

The project itself stems from renewable energy planning recommendations in the recent “RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan.” That blueprint was a joint effort of SERC and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority under the CEC’s “Renewable Energy Secure Communities Program.”

Ranked third among 30 submissions, the Energy Authority proposal is a collaboration among SERC, the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribal Government and numerous other supporting project partners.

Components of the project include:

  • A renewable biomass gasifier-fuel cell combined heat and power system
  • Energy upgrades throughout the Mad River Valley region
  • Electric vehicle charging stations

The system has the potential to double the efficiency of generating electricity from biomass. SERC will function as the engineering integrator for the biomass system. SERC engineers have pioneered advancements in hydrogen technology and fuel cells. “We’re eager to work with our partners to bring this system on-line,” said Peter Lehman, Founding Director of SERC. “It will pioneer a new way to make renewable hydrogen available to produce electricity with fuel cells cleanly and efficiently.”

“We are pleased the Commission has proposed to support this project,” said Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of the Energy Authority. “Our project team includes leaders in the renewable energy sector that are recognized internationally for their work.”

The biomass power system will be sited at the Blue Lake Rancheria, and generate 175kW, which is about 1/3 of the Rancheria’s electrical power need. It is a relatively compact unit, with a footprint under 80’ x 80’. It uses biomass (sawdust size) and turns it into a hydrogen-rich gas stream through a gasification process. The hydrogen gas powers a Ballard proton exchange membrane fuel cell, which creates electricity.

The energy upgrade project component focuses on energy efficiency, solar energy systems, and heat pumps for residences and businesses, training for equipment technicians, and other initiatives for energy conservation throughout the Mad River Valley Community (City of Blue Lake, Blue Lake Rancheria, and surrounding areas).

“It is exciting to be making significant progress toward the Tribe’s goal of exceeding California’s renewable energy standards,” commented Jana Ganion, Energy Director for the Blue Lake Rancheria, “and this type of system may fulfill the energy needs of similar communities through local, renewable resources.”

The electric vehicle component will include installation of two charging stations within the Mad River Valley Community, and monitoring the performance of these stations over the course of one year. This dovetails with other regional and state-level electric vehicle initiatives.