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Publication Date: 05/1/2010
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Fuel Cell-Powered Mobile Lighting for Academy Awards
Technicians inspect trailer that houses fuel cell and two hydrogen tanks to be used at Academy Awards gala.
Livermore, CA — A team led by Sandia National Laboratories made a cameo appearance at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards® ceremony in Los Angeles. They didn't win any Oscars, but instead provided some fuel-cell powered outdoor lighting.

Sandia, The Boeing Company, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Altergy Systems, Multiquip Inc., and others developed a novel mobile lighting system as a clean, efficient alternative to traditional technologies powered by Diesel fuel generators. These small, portable lighting systems are used primarily by highway construction crews, airport maintenance personnel, and film crews.

During the night of the Academy Awards ceremony, the unit provided lighting at an access point utilized by media and production personnel to the famed Red Carpet area, and also provided auxiliary power for a security metal detector. The unit was used in the days leading up to the event for construction of the Red Carpet that leads into the Kodak Theatre.

Zero-Emission System
The new prototype system uses a fuel cell running on pure hydrogen, a zero-emission electric power source that is also very quiet. The fuel cell produces electricity for an advanced, power-saving Light Emitting Plasma (LEP) lighting system and additional auxiliary power up to 1.5kW, which allows some equipment (such as drills, power tools, or security metal detectors) to be powered by the unit at the same time the system is providing illumination. The hydrogen was purchased from Air Products and dispensed from the company's hydrogen refueling trailer.

By comparison, current mobile lighting uses diesel fuel generators that produce CO2, NOx (nitrogen oxides produced during combustion), and soot (particulate matter), making them less than ideal for the environment. In addition, Diesel units are noisy and can create a safety hazard when construction personnel are distracted and cannot hear oncoming traffic.

Sandia project lead Lennie Klebanoff estimates that the deployment of a fuel cell-based mobile light unit could reduce Diesel fuel consumption by nearly 900 gallons of fuel annually (per unit), while also eliminating the NOx and soot emissions produced by such generators. If the hydrogen used in the lighting system is generated from non-fossil fuel sources, then the replacement of a single mobile unit would reduce CO2 emissions by about nine metric tons per year.

Ease and Flexibility
Russell Saunders, whose company, Saunders Electric, Inc., has been providing temporary power facilities for the Academy Awards since 1953, said working with the mobile fuel cell lighting unit has been a positive experience due to its ease and flexibility. According to Saunders, the fact that the system meets film production sound levels, maintains zero exhaust emissions, and can be used for both indoor and outdoor film shoots makes it especially appealing for the entertainment industry.

In addition to the fuel cell, another key component of the system is the Light Emitting Plasma (LEP) technology (contributed by Luxim, Lumenworks, and Stray-Light Optical Technologies). Before this technology was introduced, mobile lighting units typically consumed 4.4kW. The LEP system only consumes about 2.3kW for the same light output, a reduced power requirement that saves energy and increases the system's duration — the operational time between refills. Because LEP uses approximately half the energy of standard systems, it further increases the efficiency of the fuel cell-powered system. The system incorporates two pressurized hydrogen tanks (purchased by Sandia from Structural Composites, Inc.), a trailer with an enclosure (provided by Multiquip) that houses the hydrogen tanks and fuel cell , and a 5kW fuel cell (provided and installed by Altergy Systems). Multiquip and Altergy assembled the overall unit, while Sandia oversaw the design and technical plan.

In addition to the film industry, the project has also attracted the interest of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for airport maintenance work and Caltrans for nighttime highway construction. Unlike the diesel systems that traditionally power mobile lighting units, the fuel cell-powered mobile light can be used indoors. SFO plans on using the technology in its indoor terminal maintenance work.

Boeing provided original seed funding to build the prototype unit, while the Department of Energy is providing funding to support the construction of a unit optimized for the entertainment industry, as well as a third system for SFO's aviation applications. The unit for SFO will incorporate a more sophisticated, technically ambitious hydrogen storage system that utilizes metal hydride storage tanks designed by Ovonic Hydrogen Systems.

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