By Jay Schmuecker
This project is a memorial to my father, Raphael Schmuecker, who was born and raised on the Pinehurst Farm outside Blairstown, Iowa, where our solar-hydrogen system, including the ammonia generation subsystem, are located. He was a vocal advocate of using hydrogen to replace fossil fuels.
In 1998 I was in Phoenix visiting my folks and Roy McAlister, an acquaintance of my father from Arizona State University, came over and showed us a hydrogen powered Nissan pickup. My father had been talking with him about the merits of the hydrogen economy and was a strong advocate for getting away from fossil fuels. My father spent his working career in show business, radio and television. He was a born promoter and salesman. Over the next several years he got the national Rotary Club involved in advocating hydrogen to replace fossil fuels. Dad wrote a number of articles and letters to the editor promoting the merits of hydrogen gas. Many of these ran in the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. He died in 2005 at the age of 92.
The project is located one mile north of the Union Pacific Railroad main railroad line. A number of 135-car coal trains go by each day taking coal from the West to power plants in the East. It is distressing to see such a large amount of material, that is not good for the environment, being consumed to provide a significant part of the nation’s electricity.
Many farmers do not realize that eventually we will run out of fossil fuels, and there are alternatives to fossil fuels that will reduce or eliminate carbon emissions. Our solar hydrogen system demonstrates to the farming community in particular, and the public in general, that there are viable alternatives to the use of fossil fuels in farm vehicles and the generation of ammonia fertilizer, although these options are expensive on a small scale. The goal of this project is to make people aware that self-contained farm energy generation and utilization capabilities are possible.
I have spent my career at Caltech’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and have talked with colleagues—space scientists—who believe that high carbon emissions are contributing to global warming. If you do not accept that there are adverse effects from excessive carbon emissions, then consider this: as fossil energies are depleted, and their cost increases farmers will have to use other methods of providing motive power and chemical fertilizers. Otherwise we will have to revert to using horses.
Other than an interest free loan from the Iowa Energy Center and a farm loan from Farm Credit Services of America, both of which are being paid back from farm income, almost all of the funds have been provided from my Caltech retirement fund. Our family will not realize any economic gain as a result of the project, but believe that the expenditure of our resources to demonstrate project viability to replace fossil fuels is extremely worthwhile.