By Jill Ralph. The goal of creating abundant, clean energy came closer to fruition as several companies collaborated in the debut of a fuel cell used to power a $1.7M mansion at the Parade of Homes in Denver. The goal of the project was to demonstrate to the public the emerging energy technologies within the home building industry.

The cells strip hydrogen from fuels -- such as natural gas, methanol, propane, and gasoline -- and produce electricity and waste heat that can be used for space and water heating. The real benefit is that when fueled by pure hydrogen, the cells produce exhaust that contains only heat and water.

Manufactured by Plug Power Inc., the fuel cell can provide up to 5kW of electricity. In Denver, Miller Burton Homes' Roaring Fork Parade Home showcased energy- and resource-efficient features such as low-e windows to control solar heat gain or winter heat loss, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment on a zoned system, and household appliances with low demand for electricity and water.

"While it [the fuel cell] was up and running, there was someone from Miller Burton out there to talk about it and give information," says Megan Castle, public information officer with the Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation in Denver.

Castle was optimistic about the future of the cells. "As far as its impact in the building industry, it's going to be something that -- as it becomes more commercially available -- is going to be quite popular for home builders."

Due to high cost -- fuel cells can cost as much as $1,600 to $4,500 a kilowatt -- the widespread use of the cells remains limited. Scientists predict that within the next decade, fuel cells will be used to power cars and supply electricity for homes, factories, and offices.

Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, November 2002