The Hydrogen House: Fueling a Dream

In the northernmost reaches of Scottsdale, Arizona, Bryan Beaulieu, an engineer and inventor with 20 patents in structural systems, recently built a $2 million solar-and-hydrogen-powered "dream" house. Though not the most expensive residence in this affluent community, the 6,000-square-foot luxury home is, by far, the most environmentally sustainable.

Bryan Beaulieu"s home in the Arizona desert is powered by hydrogen-generated electricity.© Janice Arenofsky

It has "total integral design," says Bob Ingersoll, executive director of the Hydrogen Energy Center in Portland, Maine. "Beaulieu’s house uses less energy, which means less need to collect it. Nothing is wasted. Each function is taken care of either by design or natural law."

This is the opposite of a fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle, says Roy McAlister, president of the American Hydrogen Association in Mesa, Arizona. "And that lifestyle jeopardizes billions of people and creates inflation, pollution and conflict."

The design of the Beaulieu house is based on a Navajo hogan. It is one of the only hydrogen houses in the world (there’s also one in Malaysia!) and complements the so-called "Angel’s Nest," Robert Plarr’s solar- and wind-powered home in Taos, New Mexico. The Nest has its own hydrogen filling station, using the high-pressure gas to run his vehicle fleet and provide nighttime power.

Beaulieu’s house is an "educational destination" for homeowners, architects and appliance developers, says McAlister. It demonstrates how hydrogen can be generated using a renewable resource such as solar, says Tai Robinson, president of Intergalactic Hydrogen, a company that modifies vehicles to run on alternative fuels.

"[One reason] hydrogen is valuable is it’s easier to store than batteries or water," Robinson says. Despite the house’s "mansion"-like appearance and its expensive price tag, Robinson believes the Beaulieu home is a good eco-model of how hydrogen can be used to cook, heat water and fuel a vehicle.

"When it is burned," Ingersoll says, "it does not leave behind any chemical waste other than clean water."

Beaulieu’s solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, which runs the electrolyzer—a washing-machine-sized appliance that separates hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is then stored in high-pressure tanks, and a generator turns it into electricity for daily needs.

"The missing link for renewable energy and worldwide prosperity is a consumer-affordable technology," says McAlister, who has driven a hydrogen-powered automobile since 1974. Most homeowners cannot spend $50,000 on an electrolyzing machine as Beaulieu did. But as demand increases, says Ingersoll, mass-production will decrease the cost. In fact, companies such as Panasonic and Plug Power are hoping, in the next few years, to market a low-cost home fuel-cell generator for converting hydrogen into electricity.

And burning hydrogen for fuel cleans the air of pollens and gases better than forced air systems, says Beaulieu. That environmental plus as well as his wife’s sensitivity to chemicals and dust convinced him to go green. Only low-toxic, solvent-free adhesives and sealants, water-based floor finishes and stained concrete are used in the house.

The architectural design (such as window and wall placements), insulation and vegetation help regulate temperature. A shaded courtyard with waterfalls (which cool the water through evaporation) are surrounded by five hexagonal living pods. Within each pod, ceiling pipes circulate cool water. So do an earth-sheltered roof system and roof ventilators. "The house is really under two-to-three feet of dirt, grapevines and other native succulents," adds Beaulieu. The plants are irrigated with rain and gray water from the house’s showers.

According to McAlister, Beaulieu’s constantly evolving sustainable solutions should transfer to other communities. "Unlike the ill-fated Biosphere project," McAlister says, "Beaulieu’s pro-active experiment demonstrates self-sufficiency."