Garageland: Hydrogen in the GarageJANUARY 24, 2009
- Mike Strizki with his fuel cell
- (Eugene Sonn)
- View the Slideshow
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.
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)