Generating interest in energy alternative

By Jane Garcia

An innovative cogeneration project providing power and air conditioning for Hornsby Shire Council’s Central Library is about to realise its potential and enter a phase of commercialisation.

In order to help the council meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2010, it commissioned a showcase project utilising alternative energy production for its library.

Rather than using energy from the conventional electricity grid, a microturbine uses natural gas to generate electricity for the library, according to Environmental Health and Protection team manager, Adam Davis.

About 136kW of exhaust heat from the microturbine is sent to a desiccant dehumidifier, which dries fresh air entering the library’s air conditioning system. Removing the moisture from the air and exchanging energy with the exhaust air reduces the amount of energy needed for cooling and further reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The council received an Australian Greenhouse Office grant of $100,000 for the project, which was commissioned in early 2004. Hornsby also partnered with the CSIRO who were looking to do research into microturbines and used the library as a test site.

 “The challenge that we had was because it was the first of its kind in Australia, the approving bodies weren’t too comfortable with it and they didn’t have Australian standards to compare it against,” he says.
“We were using American standards for a lot of the installation and they were very cautious before we were commissioning that we had a lot of risk angles covered in terms of fire and other risks.”
“At that stage it was the third microturbine in Australia and there was not a lot of technical knowledge or parts in Australia.”

Mr Davis says it took a full 12 months to fully commission the system and monitor its practical performance across various conditions and seasons. The CSIRO became satisfied about six months ago that the system is now running at an optimal level.

The council has not yet reached its target of saving 250 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year, but he says it is “well on the way” to achieving the target in the short-term.

According to Mr Davis, there had been a lot of interest in the project, mainly from the private sector who is looking at its application for other refrigeration purposes, such as commercial refrigeration in shopping centres.

“It was originally set up, and still is, a research facility rather than a commercial product but we’re hoping that by the end of this year it will become a commercial product on the market,” Mr Davis says.
“The CSIRO is just refining the technology at the moment to make it a bit more feasible and create an ‘off the shelf’ product in the next couple of years.”

He says in addition to the satisfaction of having been involved in developing such a showcase project, Hornsby Shire Council will receive a commission of about 10 per cent on sales of the commercial product.

“It shows that local government isn’t excluded from cutting-edge work and it should encourage other councils to get involved and contact CSIRO to be involved with pilot sites. They’re always looking for practical applications rather than doing research in isolation at their main office,” Mr Davis says.


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