Connecticut Green Building Runs on Giant Fuel Cell

Big and green don't usually work together when building an eco-friendly apartment building. That's why 360 State Street in New Haven, Conn., is grabbing some headlines.

When done right, high-density urban development is actually greener than suburban sprawl. Indeed, the multi-use property at 360 is something of a pioneer in being big while also raising the bar for green construction to the state of Connecticut.

With a platinum LEED rating -- the highest green grade given to a structure -- the development, which is scheduled to open next week, plans to prove just how energy-efficient high-density structures can be.
What makes this 32-story, 700,000-square-foot rental building unique is the massive 80,000-pound fuel cell installed to power the property. It's roughly the size of a freight car. While fuel cells have become a trendy and responsible way to power multifamily homes, to date, this one is the largest fuel cell to operate a residential building in the world, and the only one of its kind in the U.S.

"It is more cost effective to invest in technologies such as fuel cells and regenerative elevators for larger projects because the costs can be share with more housing units," Bruce Redman Becker of Becker + Becker Associates, Inc, the developer working on the project, told HousingWatch. Becker + Becker has developed other energy-saving properties in Connecticut, as well as for The Octagon on Roosevelt Island in New York. Using fuel cells is an exceptionally energy-efficient approach because fuel cells also provide heating as a byproduct of the electricity they generate.

"Fuel cells are also more affordable and reliable in regard to maintenance," says Becker.

In maximizing the green of such a large project, 360 State Street contains numerous energy-efficient technologies, such as occupancy sensors and heat-recovery systems. That's a good balance for the 500 rentals, ranging from studios to 3- bedroom apartments. There's also 28,000 square feet of retail space and a public parking lot that holds 500 cars and 200 bicycles.

The garage has a Zipcar car-sharing program and electric car charging stations. The ground floor of the lot plans to install a food co-op. Also cool at 360 State Street is the half-acre green roof with an outdoor pool heated by the building's fuel cell. The environmental benefits -- storm water retention for irrigation and "heat island" avoidance -- of having a landscaped roof also happen to bring plenty enjoyment to residents.

"The city of New Haven is on the forefront of the Green Building movement in Connecticut," says Becker. "[New Haven] has more LEED Platinum buildings, three, than Boston, which is a much larger city and only has two LEED Platinum buildings."

The 360 State Street was built with precast concrete floor planks and a staggered-truss structural system to allow for a 25 percent reduction in steel, all of which was mass-fabricated off-site. The 400 kW fuel cell provides nearly 100 percent of the building's thermal energy and reduces its carbon footprint by half.

Becker + Becker also created a technology that allows residents to track and manage their individual electric, gas and water use in real time through a wireless web portal. The technology can be accessed through a computer or wireless phone -- all ideal when away from home, traveling and wanting to be good to the planet.

Becker credits the dedication and leadership of Yale University, which is just three blocks away in spearheading much of Connecticut's greening. "The design and construction industry as a whole in Connecticut has resisted more demanding energy codes, but it is becoming more progressive," says Becker.

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