Biogas-Powered Fuel Cell, IKEA

When IKEA of New Haven made the decision to install their first biogas-powered fuel cell, Franklin Surveys was called on to provide comprehensive land surveying services throughout the project.  A fuel cell converts chemical energy from fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction process as opposed to one that involves combustion.  As described in the project press release, this will be a 250 kW customer-side distribution plant. For any sizable construction project, the first step is to obtain a survey of the existing conditions within the area of interest.  In many cases, this involves not only a thorough research process and the rendering of a surveyors’ professional boundary opinion but also the collection of detailed information on site topography, elevations of key structures, and the location of visible and underground utilities.  For even a minimally improved small area, this could mean hours if not days of data collection.  In point of fact, an “Existing Conditions Survey” is not one of the types of surveys officially recognized in the Standards for Surveys and Maps in the State of Connecticut.  Existing conditions surveys may be classified as Property Surveys, Topographic Surveys, or General Location Surveys (among others), depending on site-specific conditions and the intended purpose of the survey map.  Surveyors are free to use their judgement to select the most appropriate survey type.

In the case of the IKEA Campus, given its proximity to New Haven Harbor and the recent highway interchange projects (see Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program) adjacent to the site, the initial approach also involved a FEMA Elevation Certificate.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defined flood regions for potentially hazardous areas based upon substantial review of topography, water levels, and surface conditions.  The precise geometric definition of these regions is subject to change over time as one might expect to account for natural and human-caused changes to the landscape and ecosystem.  Also, if an individual property owner feels that his or her property has improperly been classified to be within an at-risk area, there is a formal grievance process that involves land surveyors and other experts, such as Certified Flood Plain Managers.

To prepare an Elevation Certificate, a surveyor must do research to determine the existence of accessible and reliable benchmarks.  A benchmark is a place having a very well known elevation.  It is established by a process known simply as “leveling”, but it is fair to point out that there are actually several methods of leveling practiced by modern surveyors.  Of these methods, utilizing a global navigation satellite system (GNSS, commonly known as GPS) represents the most recent technological advancement.  Using the benchmark as a point of reference, the surveyor then determines the elevations at key points such as building floors, access points, and utilities serving the premises.  The data is analyzed (or “reduced” in surveyor speak) and sent to FEMA on the Elevation Certificate form bearing the surveyors official stamp and signature.

On site for layout

During the construction process, it is the role of the surveyor to lay out or “stake” the locations of proposed improvements as well as to establish the grade at which the improvements are to be installed.  In construction contracts or project documents, this is usually called “establishment of line and grade”.

Setting offset marks for grade beams

Considering the planned live load of the assembled fuel cell, the main platform required grade beams as supporting members.  Some of the pictures are from the day we set a series of drill holes in concrete to indicate the locations at which to penetrate the existing concrete deck.  Franklin Surveys also performed additional leveling and provided scribe-marks and labels so that subsequent “layers” of the project would be built at the proper elevations.  Upon project completion, the survey crew returned to the site for the “Improvement Location Survey” or as-built.  Given the nature of the improvements, we provided both a plan view and a profile view of the work area.  Here is a snip of the profile view along with a picture of the finished fuel cell and related equipment.

Above:  Profile View, Project As-built. Shading has been used to more clearly depict the project features. Below:  the completed fuel cells and related electrical equipment.  You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this device will be generating massive amounts of clean energy for years to come!




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