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.
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!”
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.
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.
This year the Schatz Energy Research Center is observing the 100th anniversary of the birth of Louis W. Schatz, our original benefactor and the lab’s namesake. Mr. Schatz was born January 20, 1912 in Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in forestry in 1934, going on to earn a master’s degree at UC Berkeley in 1939. He established General Plastics Manufacturing Company in Tacoma, WA in 1941, where he served as president and owner for many years. General Plastics technology has been used in the NASA space shuttle, in Navy submarines, and in most Boeing passenger jets.
Mr. Schatz was an early and enthusiastic advocate for hydrogen energy. A series of phone calls with SERC director Peter Lehman at HSU in the spring of 1989 led to their discovery of this shared interest and to Mr. Schatz’s initial financial contribution to fund the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project in Trinidad, CA. The success of this project led to the establishment of a permanent Schatz Energy Research Center with additional support from Mr. Schatz.
Mr. Schatz was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by HSU in May 1994 in recognition of his support of SERC and other HSU programs, including the L.W. Schatz Demonstration Tree Farm. Penn State, where he sponsored fellowships and endowed the creation of a center dedicated to tree genetics research, also honored him with an achievement award and named him an alumni fellow.
Peter summed up the feelings of all of us. “We’re extremely fortunate to have a benefactor like Mr. Schatz,” he said. “His unwavering support, his trust in our work, and his enthusiastic cheerleading made the good work of SERC possible.”
Mr. Schatz passed away September 22, 2001 in Pauma Valley, CA at the age of 89. He left additional funds in his estate that continue to support SERC’s work to this day, including the construction of our new facility completed last year. In total, Mr. Schatz contributed some $12 million to support SERC and other programs at HSU. Please join us in remembering this important champion of clean energy technology.