Solar-hydrogen house in Florida combines new, old
It may look like an out-of-place throwback, but the Off-Grid, Zero Emissions Building has a futuristic purpose.
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It also burns cleanly, emitting only water vapor and heat.Skip to next paragraph
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The problem is conventional appliances are designed for heavier natural gas and propane. They must be modified to safely burn hydrogen.
In a joint effort with the Viking Range Corp., Florida State researchers are transforming the house's kitchen stove. One step was to narrow the range-top jets because hydrogen packs more punch than natural gas.
It burns straight up instead of radiating so "you can actually hold your hand to the side of the flame for extended periods of time," Kramer said.
That also means hydrogen won't work in the radiant-heat oven. It's going to be converted to a convection oven that uses fans to circulate the heat.
Gas-burning refrigerators that once were fairly common have become rare for household use, but most recreational vehicles still have small propane versions. The house now has an electric refrigerator, but Kramer says the goal is to replace it with one powered by hydrogen, solar-heated water, or both.
Key hydrogen components are housed under the building in a concrete block and steel blast room.
"We've all seen the Hindenburg," Kramer says. "Goodness, that has brought all kinds of fun to my life as a hydrogen researcher."
Hydrogen, though, is relatively safe compared to natural gas as long as you aren't riding in an airship filled with it, Kramer says. Being so light, it diffuses rapidly instead of building up to catch fire like natural gas. Also, breathing it in won't suffocate you — it will just change your voice like inhaling helium.
"You would just talk in a high, annoying pitch," Kramer says.
Hydrogen power may be the ultimate goal, but it could take decades to perfect. In the meantime, the house is being used to demonstrate other technologies that can be applied right now or in just a few years. That includes the cracker house techniques that fell out of use with the arrival of air conditioning.
There are no plans to heat the home with hydrogen although that may be a good option for colder climates, Kramer says. Instead, it uses an electric and geothermal system that's very efficient in Tallahassee's mild climate. Researchers, though, may try to integrate the solar hot water and heating-air conditioning systems.
Besides photo voltaic panels producing electricity, the roof has a solar hot water array, an older but efficient technology. It's also oversized, heating enough water to 133 degrees to fill a 300-gallon tank beneath the house. That's more than enough for bathing and dish washing. The excess will be used to test future applications such as the heating-air conditioning system and refrigerator.
Simple light shelves under the upper windows reflect incoming sunshine and spread it evenly to avoid hot spots. Other energy-saving technologies include a reflective roof, dual-flush toilets and recycled material such as the wooden beams and trim, aluminum siding and ash in the concrete pilings.
The house is bolted together with large, double sheets of oriented strand board sandwiched around foam insulation. That eliminates the need for most studs, which transfer outdoor heat into a house, Kramer says.
"This house is designed to be torn apart and put back together as new technologies are developed," Kramer says. "We want to took at today and tomorrow at the same time.
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