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Garageland: Hydrogen in the Garage

Eugene Sonn

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Mike Strizki with his fuel cell
(Eugene Sonn)
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President Obama and Congress are promising to kick into high-gear negotiations over the $800 billion economic stimulus package this week. One hundred billion of that reportedly could go to alternative energy and energy efficiency. There's a guy in New Jersey who's been living inside all those energy buzzwords these last few years. He's turned the garage at his house into a hydrogen and solar power plant. As part of our series Garageland, reporter Eugene Sonn takes us to the first hydrogen-solar powered home in North America.

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When you walk up Mike Strizki's driveway in Hopewell, N.J., it doesn't look like the home of a guy who is devoted to renewable energy. The woods surrounding his garage are littered with backhoes, snowmobiles and bulldozers.

The roof holds row after row of tidy solar panels. There's a second set parked next to the garage. Strizki walks around the other side of the garage to show off the project's centerpiece. There's a white metal case the size of a corner mailbox. Inside, lots of hoses and wires circle the guts of the operation.

"The fuel cell stack is right here. It has a car radiator on it, and we can use the excess heat from the fuel cell in the winter to heat the garage," Strizki says.

Strizki's two-bay garage is big enough that you could run a small repair shop in it, if it weren't so full of stuff. He's kept the solar panels and the rest of his renewable energy dream in the garage to keep peace with his wife. "The boss says basically I can do what I want in my shop, as long as it doesn't affect her shop," he says.

Strizki calls what he does out here "bottling sunshine." His whole house runs off the solar panels. When they create excess electricity, he saves it by running it through an electrolyzer. It uses the energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. He stores the hydrogen in 10 1000-gallon tanks. When the panels aren't producing enough juice, the fuel cell kicks in. Hydrogen gets run through the fuel cell, where it combines with oxygen. The chemical reaction creates electricity all over again. The whole process is run by three laptops sitting on one side of the garage.

"Lots of people are making fuel cells, lots of people are making electrolyzers, lots of people are making solar panels and inverters. But no one seemed to be assembling them and making them into the machine," Strizki says. Making that machine hasn't been cheap. Strizki put $100,000 of his own money into it. He got $250,000 from the State Board of Public Utilities for a demonstration project. He raised another $200,000 from green technology companies. All told, the garage power plant cost way more than his house.

School kids come here all the time to visit the 3000-square-foot colonial home. Strizki tells them how he's stuffed his house with as much insulation as possible. He says it uses 60 percent less energy than a typical home of its size. It still has a pool, hot tub and big screen TV. He loves to show visitors his super-efficient appliances that he converted to run off hydrogen.

"These are LG washers and dryers. This uses about four gallons of water for 17 pairs of jeans. If this were an upright machine, it would use 55 gallons," he says with pride.

Strizki says it frustrates him to hear renewable energy called too expensive or unreliable. He built his home power plant to prove it can be done right now. "We don't have an energy crisis. We have an energy equipment crisis," he says. "All the energy you want is there for the taking: solar, wind tidal."

Strizki says he's sure renewable energy can become commercially viable if it ever escapes its niche market and can take advantage of mass production. As for the $100 billion President Obama is discussing for renewable energy, Strizki says it could have a huge impact if it's spent the right way. What he doesn't want is money for research. If he were in charge, he'd subsidize solar panel production. That could make room for a lot more homes like the one he's built.

This spring Mike is hoping to get some of the first commercial fuel-cell cars to hit the market. He currently drives a fuel cell car he designed and built when he worked for the State Department of Transportation. But his driving has to be local, since the nearest hydrogen fueling station is 100 miles away in White Plains, N.Y.

  • Music Bridge:
    A Manha Na Praia
    Artist: The Alps
    CD: III (Type)

Comments

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  • By Troy Pheil

    From Cambridge, OH, 03/08/2009

    Interesting that he has built an energy independent lifestyle. However, by my calculations, using my own energy costs of around $300 a month, it would take me 150 years to break even.

    By m dt

    From NJ, 02/04/2009

    you got it right. other peoples money and a nice governement, private vendor funded project. believe me, very little of his own, especially labor and parts. of course that was repaid well over by getting investors to buy into the whole deal. i watched this project take fold up close and personal. a word to caution, i would be very leary about investing into this smoke and mirrer dream. from what i undestand the originators of the project have already left the REI company. i heard that the money ran out mysteriously. just my 2 cents from someone that knows the real story.. ;)

    By Bruce Harrington

    From St. Paul, MN, 01/30/2009

    Most new technology is not practical in its beta incarnations - light bulbs to the Wright brothers' plane. Once something is mass produced efficiencies are usually found, e.g. economies of scale and better manufacturing techniques. Moving to production will drive some of these efficiencies. Having dozens of universities stumbling their way through the same problems will not yield efficiencies.

    By buck eide

    From bemidji, MN, 01/29/2009

    well i like the idea of all this but it costs a lot of money. i think he is right you need more money for reseach first so maybe you could bring down the price first. so if we could make it ceaper i think more people would want it

    By Dean Blomgren

    From Bemidji, MN, 01/28/2009

    I am going to have to agree with Arlen on this one. It is a great idea in theory to create your own powerplant at your home or garage to produce power for yourself and others but for everyone to be able to afford something like this it would have to be done a lot cheaper.

    By arlen jacobson

    From bemidji, MN, 01/28/2009

    It is just crazy that he spent 100,000 of his own money. Then he got another 450,000 from other sources, so all together he got 550,000. All that money how is that going to be afford by everyone it is a cool idea but it needs to cost less

    By Cynthia Bingham

    From Willisston, VT, 01/26/2009

    I meant to say "It takes an unusually observant and trained person..."
    see next comment, and fit that in.

    By Cynthia Bingham

    From Williston, VT, 01/26/2009

    It takes the unusual observant to perceive how to put the pieces together to make a system work. Freedom, Independence, genuinely new power generation sources due to Strizki's ability to integrate systems. Thank you for presenting this information . please keep updating his progress. CJ

    By Hayden Houser

    From Phoenix, AZ, 01/25/2009

    Keep up the good work. Our energy problems are real and our future depends on us using the tools we have now to make new technology work even better. On demand hydrogen systems are a good way to supplement our need for oil in combustion engines today.

    By Wayne Leonardi

    From Barrington, IL, 01/25/2009

    I commend you Mike, we have to start some where, and what so many may not realize is that they are paying for this , we all are, can you imagine what our grand children will be thinking as they look back at the wasted expense?, and the cause.... The Money is already ther!!

    By james jones

    From jacksonville, FL, 01/24/2009

    yes, it's expensive. Bet the first steam engines cost a bundle. Guys like this help work out the kinks, he's going to help figure out what works and what doesn't. Kudos.
    Just the modifications to appliances to run off hydrogen are valuable.
    And he's not using any of MY money, what's not to like?

    By Bob Carlson

    From International Falls, MN, 01/24/2009

    Mike, you are missing the point here. Sure this cost $500K to get set up. But you have to consider mass production and economy of scale. Once this, or just about any new energy source gets going, costs will plummet to one tenth or even one hundredth of starting costs. Just look at automobiles. In the very late 1800's the few very first cars were costing $20K to $30K. But within 10 years Model T Fords were selling for $500 or $600.

    By c breeef

    From raleigh, NC, 01/24/2009

    way to go but getting funding is really hard. trying to get EV's going here in NC but the funding is always the stumbling block. solar, wind, so much is so $$$$ to get things going in a serious way.

    By c breeef

    From raleigh, NC, 01/24/2009

    way to go but getting funding is really hard. trying to get EV's going here in NC but the funding is always the stumbling block. solar, wind, so much is so $$$$ to get things going in a serious way.

    By Paul Klinkman

    From Providence, RI, 01/24/2009

    I have never had any funding (yet). However, I'm making tremendous strides in a number of fields.

    --solar home heating and greenhouse heating cost breakthroughs
    --cost per gallon of growing algae for biofuel
    --cost per kwh of solar electricity
    --cutting NASA's per-mission propellant use.
    --much more, but it's not patent pending so I can't release anything.

    Pay for research and prototyping? Absolutely, if the fundamental product breakthrough has already clearly been made, and you want to shepherd the product through the "valley of death". Too many hundreds of wonderful ideas are out here sitting around doing nothing year after year. Some are so costly that I don't bother for patent pending status. Why should I waste my time and money on energy-saving transit innovations, for example? No market whatsoever for a poor inventor. $100 million entry fee.

    By Walter Jessen

    01/24/2009

    I fully agree with Strizki's idea to subsidize solar panel production instead of funding research. Solar technology works - it's just cost prohibitive for the average home owner.

    By Michael Fillmre

    From Enid, OK, 01/24/2009

    What a crock! Half a million dollars to set this up, and you expect people to look to this type of idea for energy?

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