The house is a fully functional two-room house powered entirely by fuel cells, which convert natural gas to electricity. It’s part of a collaborative research project between faculty and students in USA’s College of Engineering and Radiance Technologies Inc., a local industry partner in the USA Technology and Research Park.
Home-Based Technology -- Computer and information sciences graduate student Sharukah Siddiqui of Aligarh, India,
serves computer engineering senior Stephanie Faircloth of Loxley, Ala., a cup of coffee during a demonstration of the
new fuel cell home. Siddiqui, who assisted with software, lives there part time to test the technology.
USA President Gordon Moulton said the collaborative project is evidence of the University’s commitment to developing academic/corporate partnerships that will help build the local economy and provide additional research opportunities for faculty and students.
“There could not be a more appropriate time for this project to come to fruition than when we’re paying $2 a gallon at the pump,” Moulton said. “This is significant research with down-to-earth, practical applications that will help distinguish the University of South Alabama and support economic development.”
Huntsville-based Radiance Technologies joined the USA Technology and Research Park in February and has since strengthened its ties to USA’s College of Engineering. The company’s president, Dr. George Clark, said the connection with USA continues to provide new opportunities for collaboration between Radiance engineers and USA faculty and students.
“We’d like to thank the University for allowing us to work with them on the fuel cell project,” Clark said. “The partnership allows us to draw upon bright ideas from faculty researchers and students. Together, we’re developing technology that will have a positive impact on the area’s economy.”
Armed with $3 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, Drs. Mohammad Alam, chair of electrical and computer engineering at USA, and Peter Byrne, associate professor of electrical engineering, are leading the research.
“For remote areas, fuel cells offer a source of electric energy,” Alam said. “They can also provide energy when traditional power grids are lost, such as in the aftermath of a hurricane.”
Using natural gas or hydrogen, fuel cells produce electricity through an environmentally friendly chemical reaction.
To test the theory that fuel cells can produce enough energy to power a typical home, the research team constructed a small house in the controlled environment of a large engineering lab on campus. Energy needs for the home are prioritized throughout the day.
The house, which has all the typical home appliances, is powered by a fuel cell and is independent of an external electrical power source.
The second phase of the research project will develop a Smart Microgrid Community, in which an entire small neighborhood is powered by a single, large capacity fuel cell.
Although years of research and development are needed, Alam foresees a time when homes, cars and businesses are powered by clean, efficient, low-maintenance fuel cells. With this technology, even the most remote area on earth could have a practical source of electrical power.
Dr. Mohammad Alam, Chair
USA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Dr. John Steadman, Dean
USA College of Engineering