Imagine yourself snuggled up next to your significant other on a cold, snowy winter’s night. You are sitting on the living room floor sipping wine, warm and cozy in front of your new fireplace, watching the flames crackle and dance. Every so often you get up to add more water to the fire……
That’s right, according to Vince Bossany, press liaison at Heat & Glo (the world’s leading producer and installer of hearth products), the company’s new Aquelon fireplace will let you do just that; burn water. Or at least burn the Hydrogen and Oxygen that are the components of water and are continuously being produced from the distilled, or purified tap water in the on board electrolysis unit that is included as part of the fireplace.
The company refers to the design of the fireplace as “stylish” and “sculpture-esque”. It brings to my mind an image of the olympic flame. But with a price tag of $49,999.00 and the fact that the company only anticipates producing perhaps five of them this year (strictly on a “made to order” basis) this fireplace probably won’t be flying off the shelves at your local Home Depot anytime soon. It seems to be more a high priced novelty/toy for the Larry Ellison set. Or perhaps, with its avant-garde design, it could serve as a decorative but functional piece of sculpture for resort hotels or for companies who are involved in hydrogen research.
The company “has a tradition of successful innovation (beginning in 1987 when Heat & Glo introduced the first direct vent gas fireplace) and we wanted to be the first to develop and market an indoor device to make use of the new fuel source (hydrogen)”, said Bossany. While he admitted that the price tag is a little salty for the average American he did point out that new technologies often start out at a prohibitive price level which then lowers over time as demand increases.
Of course with an average fireplace costing only two thousand dollars or less there will have to be quite a drop in price before this technology comes into popular use. After all, given the choice between buying this fireplace and a new Shelby Mustang most Americans (including myself) would probably pick the Shelby.
The fireplace itself measures 60” high by 28” wide produces 31,000 BTU’s of heat energy. Compare this energy output to a traditionally fueled fireplace which can produce between 10,000 and 70,000 BTU’s. The Aquelon uses a 240 volt electrical connection to power it’s electrolyzer. Since, according to Faraday’s Law of Electrolysis, it is the amount of current that is flowing through the electrolyzer that determines how much hydrogen is produced it seems as though the price tag for the electricity used to run the electrolyzer in this fireplace could be comparable to an electric stove or clothes dryer.
The company claims that the Aqueon is actually safer to operate than traditionally fueled fireplaces. This is because the hydrogen fuel that the fireplace uses is stored safely and conveniently as liquid water until it is needed and then it is separated into hydrogen and oxygen only as fast as it is burned in the fireplace. This eliminates the expense and potential safety issues that would arise if the hydrogen was stored as a compressed gas.
When the water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen the result is a perfect Stoichiometric mixture. In other words, all of the Oxygen needed to burn the hydrogen is being produced from the water by the electrolysis unit at the same time as the hydrogen. So, unlike fireplaces that use traditional fuels, no oxygen is consumed from the air and therefore no outside exhaust or ventilation is needed. The only by-product of burning hydrogen and oxygen together is water vapor. There are no greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide or potentially lethal poisons such as Carbon Monoxide produced by this fireplace as there are in any hydrocarbon burning fireplace.
I talked to Jason Burch, Vice President at Fuelcellstore.com and he said that, without taking cost into consideration, he thought the design of the fireplace was “really nice looking” and added that “the fact that it incorporates an electrolyzer within it makes it extremely user friendly. Most devices that use hydrogen fuel tend to leave it up to the buyer to find a place to buy their hydrogen. So this (fireplace) has a definite advantage in that respect”.
While the Aqueon may not be for everyone at this time, the overall concept behind it seems to be a glimpse into a possible future in which at least some of our energy needs are being provided for by hydrogen produced from water. After all, water is the single largest potential source of stored hydrogen fuel on this planet, and when hydrogen and oxygen are produced from water using solar or wind energy and then burned together they turn back into water making it a totally clean and endlessly renewable energy resource.