Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), a rocket engine maker based in California, celebrated another milestone in its effort to conserve energy and reduce waste with the commissioning of United Technology Corp.’s first operational large (400kW) fuel cell in the San Fernando Valley.

About 35 people attended the Jan. 9 event at PWR’s headquarters in Canoga Park, including Los Angeles City County Councilman Dennis Zine and representatives from California state assemblyman Bob Blumenfield’s office; the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; and Southern California Gas Company.

“Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will not be satisfied until our workplaces are safe from hazards, our employees are injury-free, our products and services are safe, and our commitment and record in compliance, pollution prevention and protection of the natural environment are unmatched,” Ron Sherer, manager of Environmental, Health and Safety, told the crowd. “Today, we are one step closer.”

The fuel cell is designed to reduce PWR’s carbon footprint – the reduction in green house gas and nitrogen dioxide emissions is equivalent to removing 120 cars from local highways. The fuel cell, a PureCell system, is about the size of a school bus, and is supplying power to the grid at the company’s De Soto Avenue campus. It is built by UTC Power, a subsidiary of PWR’s parent company, United Technologies Corp.

The PWR fuel cell cost about $3 million installed and qualifies for incentives under the State’s Self Generation Incentive Program, as well as the federal investment tax credit which, when combined, can reduce the project cost by up to 60 percent.

PWR opted for the fuel cell over any other renewable technology because it best suits the company’s needs, namely when it comes to clean energy on-demand, 24/7. It also meets some of the strictest air emission requirements in the United States, and can be ramped up and down according to fluctuating demands for electricity throughout the day.

PureCell systems are known for their reliability and efficient use of natural gas. They’re also friendlier to the environment, as they release fewer greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. They can operate independently of the grid and, in PWR’s case, will be generating more than 18 percent of the company’s DeSoto campus energy supply on any given day.

The natural gas fuel cell provides a clean, quiet and efficient source of electricity. Fuel cells work by converting natural gas energy into useable electricity. Unlike traditional electric power plants, which use combustion technology, fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical process from which no particulate matter, nitrogen oxides or sulfur oxides are produced.

That DC power is later converted to AC power and 400 kW of electricity is distributed within the electrical grid at PWR’s De Soto Avenue facility. This means 400 kW less electrical power is required from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, or roughly the equivalent of power necessary to supply over 500 homes. Heat is also generated and used to heat neighboring Building 106. This has allowed PWR to turn off its boilers in that particular building, further reducing site emissions.

The PureCell system at PWR is the first of several UTC Power fuel cell systems planned for installation this year throughout the San Fernando Valley, with units being installed at two production facilities. Three will be installed at CBS Studio Center; and another three to be installed at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. The studios produce shows such as Entertainment Tonight, CSI:NY and American Idol.

The UTC Power fuel cell is the latest initiative by PWR to conserve energy and other natural resources.

Since 2006, the company’s two campuses in Canoga Park have reduced company water consumption by 35 percent (nearly 20 million gallons) through more efficient cooling tower processes, irrigation and hardware processing; electrical consumption by 31 percent through energy-efficient lighting, motors and pumps; and reduced industrial waste by 35 percent through source reduction and recycling.

Carri Karuhn was raised in the west suburbs of Chicago, where she got her start in journalism as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, writing about everything from crime and urban development, to strange fishing habits in the community, to an investigative piece about a mayor who received a free house from a local road builder. She went on to write for the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. She now works as a Communications specialist for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, Calif.