Stanford Ovshinsky, the inventor of modern solar panels, told his audience last Thurs., April 22 to forget their dreams of hydrogen-fueled cars becoming a reality in the next few decades.
“They’re ready now,” he said.
At Ovshinsky’s Earth Day lecture for the Students for Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) in the Student Activities Center, he showed a clip of the eighth prototype of hydrogen-fueled cars rolling down the street.
“I always thought that hydrogen was, like, 50 years away,” said SEAC activist Beth Huxta. “To see that car working was shocking.”
The car can travel 300 miles per tank and was just one of many innovations Ovshinsky and his wife Iris showed to the small but captivated audience.
Ovshinsky was born in Ohio but moved to Michigan after high school, where he founded a new field of physics based on the superconductivity of certain alloys. In 1960, he founded Energy Conversion Devices with his wife, and in 1999 he was named Time Magazine’s hero of the planet. The technology he showed to the students last Thursday comes from his current company, Ovonics, which efficiently compresses hydrogen technology to make these new cars practical.
His main goal was to “take away the mythology” surrounding alternative energy and to show the practicality and necessity of switching over to hydrogen fuel technology. Hydrogen fuel power works by combining hydrogen (the most plentiful element in the universe) with oxygen to create electricity. The only byproduct is water.
“Hydrogen is the ultimate fuel source,” Ovshinsky said. “A gallon of gasoline has the same energy as one kilogram of hydrogen.”
A major topic of Ovshinsky’s discussion was the affect on Earth’s civilization if people do not switch to hydrogen fuel. Quoting a Pentagon report, he said, “Climate change in the next 20 years could lead to global catastrophe.” He noted hydrogen would lower the United States’s dependence on foreign oil.
Ovshinsky said the byproduct of hydrogen fuel has uses as well. The water emitted is pure, drinkable water. If the technology could be imported to Third World countries, communities would be able to have a supply of uncontaminated water, reducing death and disease.
If applied, the solar panels and accompanying battery technology created by Ovshinsky could theoretically supply a home with virtually all the energy it would need. Opponents of solar panels say they look ugly on residential structures and are inefficient. The panels that Ovshinsky has designed look like ordinary shingles and need no more space than the ordinary house roof.
The shingles can charge NiHM batteries – just one of his laboratory’s more than 250 patents – that could be used to power cell phones, laptops and even the new hydrogen- fueled car.
Ovshinsky chose to speak at Temple last Thursday even though he was invited to a ceremony at Grand Valley State University, where they planned to honor him for his lifetime of work in environmentally sound technology.
“I go where the battle is yet to be won,” he said. He made it clear to the students that their support meant a lot to him. He also and reminded the students that they would play an important part in the revolution of energy use.
The catch to this new wave of technology is infrastructure; getting hydrogen stations installed and convenient for consumers will not be easy. To this point, Ovshinsky stressed cooperation.
“I’ll work with anybody,” he said. “Let’s remove the excuses and show what works.”
Charles McCann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.