Last June, engineers from Plug Power threw a switch and
disconnected a small Latham, New York ranch house from the power grid.
The house didn't go dark because it was powered by a fuel cell, a
promising emissionfree technology that was invented in the 1830s, but is
only now becoming practical for a range of uses, including
"distributed" power for homes.
Fuel cells (see "Beyond Batteries," November/December
1997) run on hydrogen, which can be extracted from natural gas,
gasoline, methanol or other sources. Instead of burning the fuel, they
chemically produce electricity from it, with only water vapor as a
byproduct. Interestingly enough, another company, International Fuel
Cells/ONSI, powered a house with the same technology back in the 1960s.
Fuel cells are touted as the "future power" for automobiles,
but ONSI is now the main player in what is, called
"stationary" power, and has delivered several hundred
200-kilowatt power plants to customers. If trends continue, home fuel
cell power could; become a big contender in 12110/(518)782-7700.