Mike Strizki has a love affair with hydrogen. He’s dedicated to it, saying he has a lifelong commitment to the most plentiful element on Earth: it is essential to bringing about zero emissions and giving hope to his eight grandchildren.
By 2030, he says that green hydrogen as an energy form will become mainstream: Toyota Motor Corporation and Hyundai Motor Company are betting big on it. The fuel, which leaves no emissions when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, can run everything from vehicles to factories to power plants. In the case of cars, it is safer than gasoline, lighter than air, and easily maintained. And one hydrogen station can service 400 cars a day with fill-ups lasting three minutes. Once the infrastructure is in place, he emphasizes, the days of gasoline are numbered.
“I’m into the entire hydrogen industry,” Strizki told this writer, which is everything “from political lobbying to building prototype systems and refueling stations.” At his own model ‘Hydrogen House’, “in three months — April, May and June — we make all the energy we need from solar.
“The whole purpose of the Hydrogen House is to educate the public that we have something else on the menu,” he adds. “If people do not know something about it, they can’t order it. This technology is real. The world’s largest companies have adopted it: Amazon
Before it was cool, Strizki, 64, started fiddling with cars that burn hydrogen as a fuel. But in 2006, he added a new layer of complexity to his eccentric life: he built a hydrogen-powered home in New Jersey. And then he built a second. And now he constructs them for celebrities, one of whom is Johnny Depp. Before he was the founder of the Hydrogen House Project, he served for years as a government engineer developing renewable energy technologies.
Pure hydrogen is stored in a tank before it is piped to a fuel cell to create clean electricity. Fuel cells will be cheaper than a Toyota Corolla engine, he says, because they will no longer need platinum. And that makes the electrolyzer cheaper — the key device that creates an electric current to split apart the hydrogen and oxygen from the water where it is found. While Strizki is upbeat about falling costs, others say it will take time and that the cost of an electrolyzer has to fall from $840 per kilowatt to $420 per kilowatt. That could happen in 2040, not 2030.
What is stopping it?
Even hydrogen’s most ardent advocates acknowledge that significant energy losses occur when hydrogen is produced and transported: as much as 70% of the energy content may get lost. But Strizki says that all this irrelevant if the price of hydrogen becomes cheaper than a gallon of gasoline and if the hydrogen is produced from renewable sources that are free, referred to as “green hydrogen.”
“With so much renewable energy, who cares if hydrogen production is inefficient,” he says. “Free is still free. We can do seasonable storage of energy and pump the hydrogen into the existing pipelines — as much as 20%. Once the infrastructure gets in place, we will be hard-pressed to resume burning carbon. With renewable energy, you never drill a dry hole. Right now renewables are cheaper and energy storage makes it viable.”
If all the pieces are in place, what’s the holdup? Strizki blames vested economic interest that may come out on the losing end: it is tantamount to landlines phones, Blockbuster video rentals, and Kodak film. Would you rather be a mobile carrier, Netflix
There’s also a misperception about hydrogen, says Strizki — that it is highly combustible and that it can congeal and explode. But it is safer than any other fuel; it gets to a ‘non-flammatory’ state in seconds.
To reach critical mass by 2030, Strizki says that government incentives are crucial, particularly a carbon tax. Fossil fuel companies, meanwhile, must get weaned from subsidies. That will help expand the renewable energy network — powering as much as a quarter of the cars now on the road. And because filling up is easier than charging an electric vehicle, he says that hydrogen-powered cars will do better in the market.
European oil giants BP, Repsol, and Royal Dutch Shell have money invested in the hydrogen supply chain. ExxonMobil Corp.
“We will see a hydrogen economy before I die — so we can give our children and our grandchildren a healthier planet. It will come from powering the transport sector, along with housing and buildings, with hydrogen,” says Strizki. “It will not take years. This is coming. It has reached a critical mass. Pretty soon we will be able to tell that the emperor — the fossil fuel companies — has no clothes. Their product has an expiration date. Tell me how this will end.”
Mr. Strizki’s actions on the hydrogen economy have created an indelible footprint — a path from which future generations will benefit. But as he readily acknowledges, the laws of physics do not apply when politics and money are involved — especially when industries that employ tens of thousands of people carry weight. More likely than not, all energy forms will continue to participate, although renewable energy and hydrogen production will get more respect.