Mike Strizki's solar-hydrogen house has liberated him entirely from gas, electric and oil bills for the past two years. He uses a system that stores solar energy by making hydrogen gas for later use in a fuel cell. This may bring yesterday's story Solar-Powered Fuel Cells Easy As Photosynthesis to mind, but Strizki's system is different.
Strizki's method is to use photovoltaic panels to turn sunlight into electricity. This electricity is then used to power an electrolyzer that splits the molecules of water into oxygen (which is vented into the atmosphere) and hydrogen, which is stored.
Strizki's two-story colonial on an 11-acre (4.5 hectare) plot 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Trenton is the nation's first private hydrogen-powered house, which he now shares with his wife, two dogs and a cat. (His two daughters and son, all in their 20s, have left the nest.) It has been running entirely on electricity generated from the sun and stored hydrogen since October 2006, when Strizki—in a project that his wife Ann fully supports—built an off-grid energy system with $100,000 of his own cash and $400,000 in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, along with technology from companies such as Sharp, Swagelok and Proton Energy Systems.
The Strizki's personalized home-energy system consists of 56 solar panels on his garage roof, and housed inside is a small electrolyzer (a device, about the size of a washing machine, that uses electricity to break down water into its component hydrogen and oxygen). There are 100 batteries for nighttime power needs along the garage's inside wall; just outside are ten propane tanks (leftovers from the 1970s that are capable of storing 19,000 cubic feet, or 538 cubic meters, of hydrogen) as well as a Plug Power fuel cell stack (an electrochemical device that mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water) and a hydrogen refueling kit for the car.
On a typical day, the system creates about 90 kilowatt hours of electricity. About 10 kW/h are used to power the house in the daytime; most of the remainder is used to fill the hydrogen tanks.
He also uses underground storage tanks for water to cool his house in the summer; the same system provides warmth in the winter via a heat pump.
Two fuel cell stacks power his 104 horsepower all-electric aluminum Mercury Sable. It can travel 400 miles on a single charge.
(Mike Strizki's solar-hydrogen residence video)
Science fiction enthusiasts might remember the self-sufficient houses in Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 story Childhood's End.
Update 5-May-2012: I found an earlier (and closer) prediction of this idea in Clifford Simak's 1952 novel Ring Around the Sun:
"The houses are prefabricated units," said Crawford, "and they sell at the flat rate of five hundred dollars a room — set up. You can trade in your old home on them at a fantastic trade-in value and the credit terms are liberal — much more liberal, I might add, than any sane financing institution would ever countenance. They are heated and air conditioned by a solar plant that tops anything — you hear me, _anything_ — that we have today. There are many other features, but that gives you a rough idea."
(Read more about Simak's solar-powered pre-fab house)
From Scientific American; thanks to an anonymous reader who wrote in with the tip on the story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/6/2008)