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Solar-hydrogen house in Florida combines new, old

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Dedicated in August, OGZEB has a couple small offices, but most of the interior, including an expansive living-dining-kitchen area, is strictly residential. Graduate students, staffers, and VIPs will take turns living there to give old and emerging technologies alike a real world tryout.

"If it's not being lived in and used, we're not getting good data," Mr. Kramer says.

Similar experiments are being done elsewhere, but what sets Florida State's effort apart from most is the building's reliance on hydrogen for power at night and on cloudy or rainy days.

Hydrogen is a potential low-cost alternative to batteries because storage tanks for the lighter-than-air gas are comparatively simple and cheap.

"It's a viable concept that they are demonstrating," says Yogi Goswami, co-director of the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of South Florida. "For hydrogen the problem is the cost of production. It's usually high. If they are going to reduce that cost, that's moving in the right direction."

Florida State scientists think they have a solution, Kramer says. They've developed a way to use relatively cheap and common metals to replace platinum, a critical but rare and high-priced element that makes hydrogen from water electrolysis devices expensive.

Perfecting that technology is going to take more time and money so the house is starting with an off-the-shelf version that uses traditional platinum electrodes, Kramer said.

To make a sufficient amount of hydrogen, the house needs a hefty array of photo voltaic solar panels. They produce 6.9 kilowatts of power compared to 1 or 2 kilowatts for a typical off-grid house of its size — 1,064 square feet, Kramer says.

Another innovative feature is how the hydrogen is used. Besides a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity, the gas is burned in the kitchen range and other appliances may follow.

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