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Friday, Jul 1, 2022


 What was your introduction to hydrogen as a power source? Well, it’s always been in the background because it is the most efficient way to store energy. But it wasn’t practical for a couple reasons. The way to use it primarily is with a hydrogen fuel cell. And until recently, fuel cells were just prohibitively expensive. They’re still expensive, but it’s coming down.How did you start bringing this to Lancaster?When I first got interested was when Bill Gross called me. Bill Gross is the president of Idealab, it’s right next to CalTech. They’re an incubator for all kinds of technologies. He called me up and said he wanted to build a pilot project using the sun to crack hydrogen out of water vapor. They figured out a way to focus the sun’s rays onto a device about 40 feet above the ground and that cracks the hydrogen at 2,000 degrees. Being able to contain 2,000 degrees is really quite an accomplishment. They use a quartz window. Glass would melt, but quartz, you can focus this heat into it and crack the hydrogen. So that plant is up and running. And then soon after that is when the S2 project came along. We can turn plastic into hydrogen now at S2 – anything that’s organic-based, and plastic is carbon-based. Has that broken ground yet?No, it’s still not through CEQA. As soon as it gets through CEQA, we’re ready to go.What happened after S2 got started?The Japanese called. The consul general for Japan called and said, “We’d like to talk to you about doing hydrogen in Lancaster.” So, I’ve had several meetings with them. They were quite candid about their business model. In order to take the United States market, you have to start in California. That’s what we learned with automobiles. That’s why Toyota had a factory in California. They came to us because you could be up and running two years earlier. I don’t allow any interference. Anything that could save my grandchildren gets fast-tracked to the head of the line. That’s the policy. Anything to do with alternative energy, we fast track.Is that unique to California or to Lancaster?One of the things I learned when we started down this path was, you know, it used to take six months to get a permit to put solar panels on your house. Why? That’s just the way government works. Nobody could give me a reason why. So, I changed the rules. I said from now on, it cannot take longer than 45 minutes. What are some of the benefits of hydrogen power over other fuels?There’s no carbon footprint. None. Electric cars are really just a bridge. It’s going to be hydrogen fuel cells that power cars, primarily because they’re 1,000 pounds lighter. I used to have Teslas. If you put the fuel cell in, you’ll have the same performance with 1,000 pounds less weight. Are there economic advantages too?It’s so much cheaper. The amazing thing about alternative energy is how cheap it is. When we started out, we put solar panels up everywhere at 15 cents a kilowatt. We were heroes for the amount of money we were saving. That was 10 years ago. Now we buy and sell power all day long for four to six cents a kilowatt. Alternative energy is just cheaper.We make more money from all this stuff than you can imagine. We buy and sell our own power, and it’s all alternative energy. Every watt that goes into a person’s house, we make a little piece of it. And for all the new stuff that comes in, the city owns a piece of it. The S2 plant – we own 5 percent of that. When these other hydrogen facilities come online, we’ll own a piece of that.How does the hydrogen actually get produced? Don’t you need platinum? Platinum is often used as a catalyst. But all of the technology we’re employing, we’re just using heat and electricity. Plasma torches get up to 8,000 degrees. This one I think can get to 4,000. That heat is enough to strip the hydrogen off the carbon. They’re covalent bonds. Then you’re going to suck off the hydrogen before it reforms when it cools. It takes an enormous amount of energy to do that. Plasma torches give you that energy. So does the sun with thermal – the Bill Gross plant. The limitation of Bill Gross’ plant is you can only do it six hours a day, where the S2 plant can do it 24 hours a day. If this works for any carbon-based material, what will you burn? Initially, we’re just going to be doing paper. For some reason, you get the best carbon credits from that. Ultimately, this is a private business and they’re going to the most profitable thing. If they get the best carbon credits from paper, they’ll do paper, but as long as it’s organic-based, they don’t care.You mentioned automobiles.What are some other things you’ll use the hydrogen for? This is how I see it coming online. Very soon, the gas company is going to start bleeding it into the gas. They’re going to replace about a third of the gas with hydrogen. You have so many benefits from that. It burns hotter, gets rid of the benzene, gets rid of the toxic fumes that come off your stove. That’s probably the first step.Then what?Then, Toshiba has (a fuel cell system). Interestingly enough, it’s called the Rex-2. Very soon, I think, I’m going to buy one of those and attach my house to it. And what the city will be doing is we’re looking into starting a bank to fund it. As soon as Toshiba is producing their fuel cells here, then we’re going to start converting buildings to fuel cells and take them off the grid. That gives us incredible resilience in case of an earthquake. Now, with any disruption, it’ll be individual buildings getting disrupted, not the entire city. Our water well pumps will be on fuel cells. We won’t have the disruption of water.How will this affect Lancaster’s business community?Well, there’ll be more employment. We will have options if you want to leave your job. It’s all pluses. Every new thing we do, we see greater profits from. The state tax people said most cities had a loss of 11 percent of sales tax during COVID. We lost three. Everything that happens here, we approach it with looking for innovative solutions.Do you anticipate Lancaster becoming a hub for hydrogen and other alternative energy companies? I think that’s inevitable at this point. You have centers of excellence, centers of knowledge that people gravitate to. Hydrogen as a fuel source is really originating in Lancaster. The actual technology to be able to use it will be built here. The research will be here. It’s the perfect place for it. Your focus on climate change isn’t exactly what one might expect from a Republican politician.I’m a Republican because I believe people should be safe any time of the day and night whenever they walk out their front door. I think the free market economy works better than anything else. It doesn’t work well, but it works better than anything else. I believe in a strong military. Other than that, I don’t know what a conservative is. It’s not somebody that pays homage to the oil industry. They do not worship at the feet of the Koch brothers. Is it more more difficult to convert to hydrogen power than to solar power?We’re going to probably need more federal help. We haven’t had any up until now, but we’re probably going to need that federal help to make the conversion. There’s no reason you couldn’t use your gas lines to store and transport the hydrogen. And the gas company is now making noise about wanting to do that because they figured out a way to pull the hydrogen out of the line itself with some kind of catalyst. I’m one of the lead attorneys in the (Aliso Canyon) case, so it’s hard for them to talk to me.Lancaster’s population is growing fast, and more people need more energy. Does that present a challenge to your effort?It’s not an issue. We passed an ordinance a few years ago. All housing has to be net zero. We kind of leave it up to (developers) how to get there. Why is Lancaster’s hydrogen push important for the rest of us? I speak all over the world at energy conferences, and I always ask the question: is there anybody in this room that can tell me a technological solution to stop climate extinction? And no one has ever been able to raise their hand. Not ever. And I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Now, I think people could start raising their hand because of all the various methods of producing hydrogen. Maybe we might be able to survive what we’ve done to this planet. It’s the first time I’ve been hopeful that we could survive as a species, meaning my grandchildren. So, the motivation for this extends far beyond just the city. You know, the city is not an island. In order for us to survive, everybody has to survive.

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