About Peter Lehman

Director of SERC and a professor of Environmental Resources Engineering at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA.

Dr. Lehman received a B.S. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago. He then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley where he conducted research on the aerochemistry of photochemical air pollution. Before coming to HSU, he has been a member of the faculties of Sacramento State University; California State University, Northridge; and Deep Springs College. While at HSU, Dr. Lehman has served as chair of the Environmental Resources Engineering Department, co-chair of the International Development Technology masters program, and faculty advisor to the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. His research interests include renewable energy systems, especially solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies. Dr. Lehman’s work at the Schatz Center includes the development of solar hydrogen generation systems, development and production of fuel cell personal utility and neighborhood electric vehicles, and research and production of proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Most recently, the Center is involved in integrating electrolyzers into complete hydrogen generation and dispensing facilities, and developing and producing fuel cell systems for telecommunications, portable power and uninterruptible power supply applications.

Schatz Center “West Wing” Nears Completion

Construction of the Schatz Center’s new “West Wing” is nearing completion. The 1900 square foot single-story building was designed by Suarez Kuehne Architecture of San Francisco, and is being built by Adams Commercial General Contracting of Eureka. The new addition is located immediately west of the current Schatz office building and lab.

The $1.04M facility will include fourteen workstations for professional staff and student research assistants, two faculty offices, and a conference room that can accommodate 8-10 people. The West Wing matches our current building’s design, with features including a standing seam metal roof, redwood siding and stucco, and large windows to provide generous daylighting.

The exterior is complete. Inside, the wiring, lighting, drywall, and painting are done, and the carpet and Marmoleum™ flooring have been installed. Desks, cabinets, and other furnishings have been ordered. Schatz staff anticipate moving into the new space by early November.


Exterior of the Schatz Center West Wing


Schatz Center West Wing, from the southwest corner


Purdue Project Continues SERC’s Commitment to Technology Transfer

Continuing our long commitment to helping other universities get started in fuel cell research, SERC has recently begun working to build a fuel cell test station for Professor Neera Jain of Purdue University. As a new professor in Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering, Neera is establishing a research program to study the operation of a fuel cell co-generation system designed for a home. The fuel cell will provide almost all the electricity needed for the home, while the waste heat generated will be used to heat water and space, resulting in very high overall efficiency.

The test station will be fitted with a Ballard 2.4 kW, water-cooled fuel cell, a programmable electronic load, and three increasingly larger hot water tanks, each fitted with an internal heat exchanger. The cooling water from the stack will be piped to the tank’s exchanger to preheat water for domestic use. Custom software that we develop will enable Neera and her grad students to simulate electricity and hot water load profiles. By varying the profiles and operating conditions and measuring performance, Neera will be able to develop control algorithms for optimum efficiency.

This project with Neera and Purdue is the latest example of SERC’s involvement in technology transfer to other universities and schools. We’ve been doing similar work for almost two decades.

Christine Parra of SERC leads Merit Academy students through a calculation involving our first Stack-in-a-Box®. (1999)

Christine Parra of SERC leads Merit Academy students through a calculation involving our first Stack-in-a-Box®. (1999)

Our work started in 1998 when we were contacted by the Merit Academy, a small charter school near Santa Cruz. The school had obtained a DOE grant to study fuel cell technology and wanted hardware so their students could do experiments. This led to us developing our first Stack-in-a-Box® fuel cell educational tool. Merit students visited our lab and helped assemble the fuel cell and the next March, we delivered it to the school with an associated curriculum. We had lots of fun doing fuel cell calculations and making fuel cell powered milk shakes. Later, the students and their fuel cell travelled to Washington DC to explain hydrogen technology and make ice cream for amazed attendees at the National Hydrogen Association annual meeting.

SERCers Greg Chapman (left), Denise McKay (kneeling), and Antonio Reis (right) deliver our first fuel cell test station to Professor Anna Stefanopoulou (standing left of Denise) and two of her grad students in the Lay Automotive Lab at the University of Michigan. (2002)

SERCers Greg Chapman (left), Denise McKay (kneeling), and Antonio Reis (right) deliver our first fuel cell test station to Professor Anna Stefanopoulou (standing left of Denise) and two of her grad students in the Lay Automotive Lab at the University of Michigan. (2002)

We’ve continued to build Stack-in-a-Boxes®. They’ve gone to places far and wide—Smith College, Southwestern Community College in North Carolina, Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley, SunLine Transit Agency, and we kept one ourselves. It continues to be a wonderful tool for teaching about hydrogen and fuel cell technology and to excite students about science.

That’s how we started; we then branched out into fuel cell test stations. Out of necessity as we developed our fuel cell program, we spent many years building and perfecting our test stations. When Professor Anna Stephanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan’s Lay Automotive Lab, called and inquired about a test station, we agreed to build her a custom station. In the summer of 2002, we travelled to Michigan, installed the station, and trained Anna and her grad students in its use.

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Richard Engel (left) and SERC Director Peter Lehman deliver a test station to UC Berkeley as part of the Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education project. Also pictured are Professor Dan Kammen (right) and Tim Lipman of UC Berkeley. (2009)

Fast forward thirteen years. In addition to Michigan, our test stations are now in use at universities as diverse as Auburn, Kettering, and UC Berkeley. A few years ago, we reached an international audience when we built and installed a test station at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates.

Greg Chapman (left) trains Professor Tariq Shamim (center) and a grad student in the use of our test station at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates. (2011)

Greg Chapman (left) trains Professor Tariq Shamim (center) and a grad student in the use of our test station at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates. (2011)

Each of our stations has been customized and has presented us with new challenges and the opportunity to break new ground. The test station for Neera and Purdue is no exception. It is the first station we’ve built that will enable use of fuel cell waste heat and the first to use a commercial fuel cell, not one we’ve built ourselves. And as always, there are new design problems to overcome and new equipment to spec out and procure.

It’s been enjoyable working with Neera to design the station to exactly meet her research needs. We know we’re assisting a new faculty member in getting her research off the ground so that she can help solve important energy problems. It’s what makes our work so interesting and rewarding.

SERC Director Arne Jacobson Receives CSU’s Highest Honor

Arne discusses the pros and cons of solar lighting products at a focus group in Kenya.

Arne discusses the pros and cons of solar lighting products at a focus group in Kenya.

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Arne, Ted Bilek, and Han-Sup Han, leaders of the $5.8M Waste to Wisdom biomass project, observe biomass harvesting in Humboldt County.

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Arne and students receive their award as winners of the U.S. EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet competition.

Just before winter break, California State University Chancellor Timothy White informed SERC Director Arne Jacobson that he had been chosen to receive the prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award. This award “celebrates CSU faculty and administrators who, through extraordinary commitment and dedication, have distinguished themselves by exemplary contributions and achievements in their academic disciplines and areas of assignment.” Arne received the award in the area of Natural Sciences, Mathematical and Computer Sciences, and Engineering.

Arne was honored in part for his groundbreaking work with the International Finance Corporation and World Bank to ensure the quality of off-grid lighting and solar home products as part of the Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Lighting Global programs. As has been chronicled in this newsletter for years, Arne and his team have contributed to increased energy access for millions of low-income people in Africa and Asia. Laboratories around the world have adopted the testing protocols and quality assurance standards that were developed by the SERC team in collaboration with partner organizations.

Arne will receive his award during a ceremony at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach on January 27. The Board of Trustees, CSU Presidents, and other guests will attend and a celebration dinner will follow. The Wang Family Excellence Award comes with a cash prize of $20,000.

Candidates for ERE/SERC Position Coming to Campus

As we’ve reported previously, the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) Department and SERC have been seeking a new faculty member. The successful candidate will split time between teaching and advising duties in the ERE Department and research work at SERC.

The search committee members are Arne Jacobson, Charles Chamberlin, Dave Vernon, and Peter Lehman as chair. The committee has conducted phone interviews with a pool of leading applicants and invited four excellent candidates for on-campus interviews. They will visit HSU during the last week of January and the first week of February. They’ll be meeting with faculty and administrators, teaching a class, and presenting a research seminar during a whirlwind day and a half.

The entire ERE faculty will make the final decision of the successful candidate. We hope to have a new colleague in place by next fall semester.

SERC to Celebrate Our 25th Anniversary

On the afternoon of Friday, May 16, Schatzers from far and wide will gather at Freshwater Park outside Eureka to commemorate the silver anniversary of the Schatz Energy Research Center. Catered food and general merriment will help us celebrate 25 years of clean and renewable energy work.

It all began with a phone call in May of 1989. Mr. Schatz called me up to ask questions about a proposal I had sent him to build a system to demonstrate using hydrogen to store solar energy. He had solicited ideas about hydrogen research from HSU and when I heard about the possibility, I sent him a proposal the next day.

Mr. Schatz didn’t waste words. He started the conversation by saying, “This is Mr. Schatz. You sent me a proposal. I have questions.” Our call lasted over an hour and when it was over, I suggested sending him a revised proposal based on our conversation. He agreed and I did. Less than two weeks later, a small envelope with a check for $75,000 appeared in my mailbox and the great adventure that has become the Schatz Center had begun.

The first thing I did was to knock on Charles Chamberlin’s door. Charles and I had collaborated on several projects before and I knew he was just the partner I needed. Our partnership has been a cornerstone for the lab ever since.

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Directors Peter Lehman and Charles Chamberlin pose in front of the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project in 1995.

That first project, the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project at HSU’s marine lab in Trinidad, turned out to be just the beginning. When the fuel cell we bought for the project didn’t work, Mr. Schatz told me, “Build your own.” So Charles and I wrote a proposal to build a fuel cell lab and begin work to develop our own fuel cell. Along came another small envelope, this time with a check for $300,000 and a small handwritten note that said, “Get to work!”

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Director Arne Jacobson with Charles and Peter at SERC’s 20th Anniversary party.

That experience led us to many more hydrogen projects and to many places. We introduced America’s first PEM fuel cell car and built the first hydrogen fueling station in the late 1990s, near Palm Springs in southern California. We built fuel cell power systems for remote use in Alaska and for a radio telephone system in Redwood National Park. We’ve installed fuel cell test stations in a number of universities, including most recently in Abu Dhabi. Four corporations have licensed our fuel cell patents, seeking to commercialize the technology.

Fast forward to today and our energy work has broadened considerably. We’re involved in developing standards for LED lighting products and in providing energy access in Africa and Asia. We’ve branched out into bioenergy, with projects to install a biomass-fired fuel cell power system here locally and another to characterize technologies such as biochar and torrefaction, in an effort to reduce the cost of getting energy rich biomass to market.  We’re also involved in helping to plan electric and alternative fuel infrastructure here in northern California and in India. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

It’s the people at SERC who have made this happen. Over these 25 years, 145 people have contributed their efforts to our enterprise.  We’re lucky that one of them, Arne Jacobson, returned to SERC after getting his PhD to become our director and to lead our international work. Many more have gone on to interesting and important energy careers around the world.

We have much to celebrate as we look back over a quarter of a century. And we can be proud that we’re continuing our work to make this a greener planet.

A Message from the Director: Passing the Torch

This is my last director’s column.  After 7 years of newsletters and 23 years at the helm of the Schatz lab, I’ll be entering the faculty early retirement program in mid-August and passing the torch on to Arne Jacobson who will become the lab’s director.

We’re fortunate to have Arne stepping in.  He was one of the first grad students to work at the lab; his master’s thesis concerned work with the electrolyzer at the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and now is my colleague in the Environmental Resources Engineering department.  Arne’s long time connection with the lab, his service as co-director for five years, and his strong leadership skills will serve us well for many years to come.  And starting next issue, you’ll get to read his thoughts in this space.

Meanwhile, I’m not going away.  Working here is way too interesting and fun to stop now.  During the five years of my early retirement program, I’ll be known as the Founding Director and share leadership duties with Arne.  I look forward to being busy and involved; maybe I’ll even have a chance to get back into the lab and turn a wrench or two.

In this issue of our newsletter, Peter Alstone and Meg Harper keep us up to date on summer activities in Kenya as part of the Lighting Africa project and Richard Engel writes a tribute to our benefactor Mr. Schatz on the 100th anniversary of his birth.  Jim Zoellick describes a project with local partners to plan for an electric vehicle infrastructure in Humboldt County, Allison Oakland describes our continuing effort to bring fuel cell topics into science education with a teacher workshop, and Greg Chapman describes progress in upgrading our hydrogen fueling station to 700 bar operation.

I’m writing this on the summer solstice as the sun shines its warmth and light on our hemisphere.  I want to thank all you faithful readers and send a fond farewell.  It’s been a joy and a privilege to communicate with you through this column; let’s all keep working to improve the health of our beautiful planet.  Goodbye, thank you, and best wishes.
—Peter—

A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

The past couple of months have been an exciting time at the lab.  As Colin Sheppard reports in his article about wind energy in Humboldt County, SERC—and I personally—have been caught up in an intense and politically charged debate about ShellWind’s proposed 50 MW wind farm on Bear River Ridge.  Though our work in renewable energy has always had political overtones, never before have we been thrust into the political limelight.  It’s been an eye-opener for me.

In many ways, ShellWind’s proposal to build the wind farm seems like a no-brainer.  When complete, it will mean a substantial increase in renewable energy generation in Humboldt County and it will make us more energy secure.  It will mean local economic development and jobs.  It will reduce greenhouse gases.  Who could be against that?

It turns out many people can.  The citizens of Ferndale and Petrolia have come out in force to oppose the project.  As Colin notes, they have objected to the road building, the environmental impacts, the disruptive nature of big turbines in their pastoral country, and doing business with a large, multi-national corporation that they don’t trust.  Editorials have appeared in our local paper entitled, “I don’t want ShellWind in my backyard,” and “NIMBY and proud of it.”  Because we’ve written and spoken in favor of the project, some have called us out for “attacking” local citizens and their interests.  It’s an unfamiliar situation for me personally and for the lab.

The good news is that we’ve been able to start a civil dialogue with some of the project’s opponents that I hope will allow cooler heads to prevail.  But how this will play out is anyone’s guess.  We’ll keep you informed in subsequent newsletters.

In other, calmer news, Andrea Alstone reports on progress in upgrading our hydrogen station so that we can achieve 700 bar refueling.  That will mean we can drive our Toyota fuel cell car to the Bay Area, refuel at the AC Transit or Berkeley station, and drive home.  Since we travel to the Bay Area frequently, this will be the first long distance fuel cell commute in the world.  Richard Engel reports on our efforts to take our hydrogen/fuel cell curriculum to a national audience through an NSF grant.  Finally, Jim Zoellick reports on our RESCO project that is coming to fruition with the publication of our strategic renewable energy plan for Humboldt County.

Last newsletter, written in December, I wrote about the sunniest fall and early winter ever.  Now our more usual winter weather has returned with a vengeance.  It’s pouring as I write this and flood warnings are posted.  As everything here in Humboldt turns electric green, I wish you some refreshing spring rain and flowers to come.

A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

It was a momentous day for the Schatz Center. Our building grand opening was blessed with warm, sunny weather and an enthusiastic turnout. As I said in my remarks that day, when Charles Chamberlin and I met in my office 22 years ago to plan a promising new solar hydrogen project, neither of us had an inkling that it would lead to our wonderful new lab. But here we are—working with caring, passionate colleagues in a state-of-the-art facility. It’s been a great ride.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

I just returned from the Photovoltaic Specialists’ Conference in Seattle; it was the 50th year anniversary of the conference. The first PVSC that I attended was in 1987 when Charles Chamberlin and I reported on PV module tests in Humboldt County.

What a difference! The conference is now huge, with thousands of attendees, and the PV industry is mature and sophisticated. Total worldwide installations of PVs have now reached 40 GW and as one speaker reported, if PV growth stays on the historical path that it has maintained for the last 30 years, total installed PVs will reach 1000 GW by 2020. At that level, PVs will contribute about 10-15% of the world’s total electricity generation. That’s amazing and heartening progress.

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A Message From the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

This is the first director’s column written in my new office in our new Schatz lab. It’s just wonderful to be in this modern, well-designed building that will certainly increase our productivity and has already made us proud. You can read about some of the details and see a picture in the building update in this issue.

But while the Schatz Center has been upgraded, the U.S. hydrogen and fuel cell technology program has fallen from sight. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has suggested that the hydrogen program be zeroed out in the next DOE budget. There is plenty of funding for battery research and plug-in hybrids, but not a penny for fuel cell vehicles. Secretary Chu tried to do this in last year’s budget cycle but was rebuffed by a strong coalition of legislators who insisted that the funding be restored.

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