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The station will likely look similar to this self unit. It will cost about $3M USD and fuel 10 to 15 vehicles daily with hydrogen produced by hydrolysis. The energy to split the hydrogen from the oxygen will come from attached solar panels.  (Source: The Center for Energy Research)

SunHydro plans to make I-95, one of the busiest East Coast highways a "hydrogen highway".  (Source: AARoads)
Just as the future looks increasingly dim for hydrogen, the industry gets a boost

Prospects of seeing hydrogen vehicles available commercially anytime soon have looked increasingly bleak.  U.S. President Barack Obama has refused to provide significant federal funding to hydrogen vehicle development, supporting battery electric vehicles instead.  In addition, recent research reports indicate that hydrogen would actually release more net greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gasoline, when analyzed over the entire life cycle.

However, there's a ray of light for the hydrogen industry amid the darkness.  Connecticut-based SunHydro has announced plans to transform Interstate 95 into a hydrogen highway.  Those who live in the U.S. East Coast know that I-95 stretches from Maine to Florida and is one of the nation's busiest interstate highways. 

SunHydro will construct 11 stations on the highway.  Each station will be a self-contained hydrolysis unit with solar power collectors attached.  The solar power will provide energy to create hydrogen from water via hydrolysis.  The hydrogen production system will come from an Proton Energy, an alternative energy start-up.  The net process is expected to be much more carbon friendly than transporting hydrogen by truck to fueling stations.

The plan is ambitious.  Explains company president Michael Grey, "Our goal is to make it possible for hydrogen car to drive from Maine to Miami strictly on sun and water.  Having talked to several of the auto manufacturers, the indication that we’ve received is that there has to be a network of stations on the east coast for them to bring the cars here.  They want to bring the cars here, but there’s nowhere to fuel them."

Currently, the hydrogen industry is stuck in a chicken and egg dilemma of sorts.  Lack of vehicles makes stations a poor business investment, while lack of stations make developing hydrogen vehicles problematic.  Paul Williamson of the University of Montana College of Technology, notes,"There’s no sense having hydrogen cars if there’s no place to refuel them. Most of the development is happening in California. Why? Because they have refueling stations."

The initial SunHydro station aim for a gradual build up, initially producing enough fuel to fill up 10 to 15 vehicles a day.  The stations will be located in Portland, Maine; Braintree, Massachusetts; Wallingford, Connecticut; South Hackensack, New Jersey; Claymont, Delaware; Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; and Orlando and Miami, Florida.

The stations may cost up to $3M USD a piece in private investment.  Mr. Grey says his company is taking a bold risk shouldering these high costs in order to bolster the market.  He states, "We’ve just decided that somebody needed to start this process. You have a lot of the big companies talk about it, but nobody’s stepped up to the plate and made it happen. You’ve got to have some visionary risk taking if you want to be a company of the future. Otherwise, you’ll fall by the wayside."

Currently, several companies still have hydrogen plans despite the cold reception by the research community and government.  GM has worked for several years on fuel cell-powered Equinox SUVs.  Honda has its FCX fuel cell test vehicle that has seen limited U.S. deployment.  And Mercedes-Benz plans to release F-Cell, a limited edition fuel cell vehicle to “selected customers” in Europe and the United States this spring.  Mazda and Volkswagen are also eying hydrogen plans.

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RE: Still a fair way to go...
By mindless1 on 1/28/2010 2:42:02 PM , Rating: 1
Let's suppose every station runs at absolute peak capacity and does 15 fillups. Let's suppose every day is equally sunny and a cloud free sky so again max capacity.

Let's suppose these few cars that can be supported are necessarily always on the road so they actually need such regular fillups. Let's also suppose people get the car merely for novelty's sake, as $40 per fillup isn't the cheap fuel solution people want when picking an alternative energy vehicle with such limited refueling 'sites.

Even after assuming all these things, in 5 years that adds up to only $219K a year, $1.1M in 5 years, with the station starting out at $3M and this as you noted does not consider maintenance, lifespan of equipment in general (could simply wear out before it ever breaks even), or the interest that money could've earned sitting in a bank or otherwise invested.

No, this is not a risky business, this is taxpayers subsidizing another impossible failing proposition, and creating eyesores and potential danger areas next to the interstate.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By JediJeb on 1/28/2010 3:34:36 PM , Rating: 2
No, this is not a risky business, this is taxpayers subsidizing another impossible failing proposition, and creating eyesores and potential danger areas next to the interstate.

I don't believe these would be any more an eyesore than a regular gasoline station along the highway and probably safer since the amount of hydrogen stored would be rather small. Hydrogen is not the "nuclear bomb waiting to go off" that many people think it is.

Also think about when automobiles first began to run on gasoline, there wasn't a gasoline station on every corner back then either. As the article states, you have to start somewhere. If someone makes a fueling station near me, I would 10 to 1 rather buy the honda fuel cell car over an all electric car. Even a Tesla has a limited range of a couple hundred miles, with long recharge times between runs, yet with enough of these hydrogen stations you could run pretty much nonstop coast to coast just like you can now with a gasoline powered car. The steps between all gasoline powered cars we have now and when all electric cars become popular ( being able to recharge in 5 minutes or have a battery that lasts 1000+ miles) I see gasoline/electric hybrids, then hydrogen fuel cell, then the full electric. If we don't start somewhere then we will never get anywhere.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By Keeir on 1/28/2010 4:24:05 PM , Rating: 5

there are significant issues though with this idea.

Lets role down the chart.

Large scale solar installations would be happy to produce electricity at 20 cents per kWh. Germanys Whole-Sale rate for Solar is above 50 cents per kWh... To believe that the solar power for the water spliting occurs at a cost less than 25 cents per kWh is... well extremely optomistic.

Small scale water spliting is at most 50% efficient.

A kilogram of Hydrogen has approx 40 kWh of energy. Meaning to split water into 1 kilogram of hydrogen takes a minimum of 80 kWh of electricity. Since it then needs to be compressed and pumped, probably more like 85 kWh is required to deliever a single kilogram of hydrogen fuel to the end user.

One can travel ~60 miles on 1 kg of Hydrogen in the FCX Clarity. Or roughly a hit of 1.4 kWh -per- mile (.71 miles per kWh collected from panel). That works out fairly significant costs even when electricity is sourced from the grid. When it based on a solar installation as such, its gets dramatically worse.

In comparison, a similar installation using a Sodium Battery or similar would acchieve closer to ~2.75-3 miles per kWh collected from panel (Tesla Roadster 28 kWh/100 miles measured from the wall).

I think Hydrogen is a dead end. Too many things need to happen. Fuel Cell Stacks must somehow become affordable (they are in 100s range right now). Fuel Cell stacks must become more efficient. Electric components must become affordable for use in cars. Hydrogen generation must become efficient and renewable (Even reformulation NG doesn't make sense... why not just use the NG?!?). Hydrogen mobile and physical storage must become more affordable and safer. A completely new infrastructure must be constructed...

I rather have more of the Volt type transition. Gas --> Hybrid --> Mild PHEV --> Strong PHEV --> Full Electric

Reuse of technology implemented in other facets of life. Restoration and Expansion of infrastructure rather than whole new systems.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By Penti on 1/28/2010 9:18:44 PM , Rating: 2
Also the stations can hardly be off-grid, they would need like 1000 solar panels then for the 15 cars a day. Of course it's a dead end.

However I don't really see the shift to full EVs unless "mobile charging stations" can go to you and quick charge your car if you run out of charge. "Strong" PHEV with synthetic fuels (or biogas) would probably be more realistic for those who wishes to phase out the oil. It might be odd only having to pump up for road-trips though. But everyone won't make the change at the same time. Any way it's along time away from now and the society will look totally different. It's however time for "mild" PHEV now. So maybe in ten years it's the standard for new cars.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By randomly on 1/28/2010 10:07:39 PM , Rating: 2
1 Kg of hydrogen produces about 16 Kwh out of a fuel cell. 1 kg of hydrogen is equivalent to about 1 gallon of gas. The energy required to produce and compress that 1kg of hydrogen from small scale electrolysis fuel stations is more in the range of 70-75 Kwh. At $0.10 to $0.12 per kwh for electricity off the grid that is some damn expensive gasoline, even with a car that's getting an equivalent of 60 miles to the gallon.

And there are no large efficiency improvements in the system to be had. You might improve the fuel cell another 10-20%, and the electrolysis another 10-20% but that's about it.

As keeir states, hydrogen just makes a horrible inefficient energy storage medium. Even the fuel cell companies like Ballard Power systems can see the economic realities and have abandoned their automotive fuel cell programs.

Hydrogen fuel cells only remain as an Eco-green marketing campaign topic for companies but nobody in the know expects them to be deployed in any significant way in the next 20 years, if ever. The economics just don't add up. Not even close.

I absolutely agree that the best path is Gas --> Hybrid --> Mild PHEV --> Strong PHEV

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By Thats Mr Gopher to you on 1/29/2010 12:36:12 AM , Rating: 2
I absolutely agree that the best path is Gas --> Hybrid --> Mild PHEV --> Strong PHEV

I very much agree with this but there is also room for pure battery EVs in parallel with the PHEVs for those who do not require the range everyday or are looking to purchase the EV as their second vehicle. The simplicity of an EV means that servicing costs far less than any vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Even up front costs could be lower once battery prices improve. It's not for everyone but their exists a large market that could happily use these vehicles.

Vehicles such as the Volt seem to have the right idea for everyone else. The vehicle travels most days purely on battery power but then uses a generator to extend the range whenever needed using commonly available fuel. When better technologies come along, the internal combustion engine used as the generator could be replaced with a fuel cell or some exotic high efficiency engine, or whatever makes the most sense in the given market (such as LPG in countries where it is widely available).

Also I think one thing a lot of people don't understand is that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle just with a smaller battery and the electricity generated through a fuel cell. A lot of people seem unaware of the significant overlap in the technologies.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By Penti on 1/29/2010 9:19:53 AM , Rating: 2
There is room for battery improvement but I fully expect cars to have diesel or even kerosene heaters in the northern countries. Like Russia, Nordic countries, Canada, large parts of US, Central Asia and so on. Of course it can be offset (mostly) by heating the cars while plugged in (will also help the batteries.) but that won't cover the full extent of it.

I have already written a few other posts under this article, but PHEV or plug-in series hybrid powered by natural gas / biogas powered generator is probably best for the environment and air in cities. Local pollutants and the laws against it is really what is driving this development any way. Just as it's does laws that essentially removed fossil fuels from my countries electric power production. It's not like natural gas resources are fully developed either. Neither is biogas from waste. Sweden should be able to support a large PHEV fleet on energy from waste. (For the extending range fuels). It will always makes more sense then trying to power normal ICE on biofuels here. Just the Ethanol for mixing into the gasoline here in Sweden requires as much wheat as Norway eat for human consumption/food. Or the wheat from 2-3 counties. Fodder/feed wheat which has a yield of 6-7 tons per hectare. That's slightly more then twice the yield US has...

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By mindless1 on 1/28/2010 10:53:19 PM , Rating: 2
A regular gas station can service far more than 15 cars a day, so is it more of an eyesore to have 1 gas station every 5 miles, or have 200 of these AND still 1 gas station?

Now is it safer to have 1 gas station or 200 of these AND 1 gas station? Sorry but you can't do it, can't have perpetual offramps on an expressway nor people pulling over to the side, and off the regular off-ramps, nobody wants to sell you a tiny 1-car+machine sized lot by breaking up their existing lot.

If someone makes a fueling station near you like these, you have no assurance whatsoever that it has enough fuel for all the people who think like you that they can assume it would, because the whole point is that we don't have the infrastructure yet.

If we could all at once switch to hydrogen, covert a gas station at a time and supply it with regular means instead of a little solar panel setup I'd be for doing that. Unfortunately that is what it will take because there is not sufficient land in concentrated areas off of existing expressway ramps to place enough solar cells. Remember that development is generally next to the expressway already, though I suppose if someone had deep enough pockets they could place the solar cells miles away, receive energy credits and take back the energy off the grid to do the hydrolysis.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By Thats Mr Gopher to you on 1/28/2010 3:53:22 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure but I don't think this particular project is receiving taxpayers money. It appears to be backed by private funding.

These stations certainly aren't going to be making anyone any money though, that is for certain.

Both hydrogen fuel cells and photovoltaic solar panels are technologies that have yet to reach their prime. Relatively small scale projects like this will help to grow the technology and eventually lead to better systems that can become economically viable.

Remember that when the automobile first came about it certainly wasn't something everyone could afford nor were there fuel stations across the country. Don't expect the first few generations of electric vehicles or fuel cell vehicles to be the "every man's car" nor universal access to fast charging or hydrogen fuelling.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By mindless1 on 1/28/2010 10:59:45 PM , Rating: 2
Yes private funding. You don't suppose those doing that funding are getting money back?

I do support the idea of continuing to develop more efficient solar panels, placing them on land that isn't deemed more useful for something else, and putting that power into the grid.

THEN, those being paid for their energy production can do whatever they want with the money, like installing a hydrolysis hydrogen generator fueling station at existing gas stations if they so choose. In other words I'm saying the oil companies are the wise ones to get into this market since their profits will drop anyway as more people move away from gasoline and diesel, and because regardless of whether a car uses hydrogen or not the occupants and vehicle still has benefit from the traditional *gas* station where they might refuel with hydrogen.

RE: Still a fair way to go...
By rakewell2 on 2/1/2010 5:14:05 PM , Rating: 2
I think this is a fantastic project. The opportunity that everybody seems to have missed is the potential to create such an installation at your home. This could not only power your car but your entire house. But even if it only ran your car, that's only one tank of hydrogen per day (assuming you drive that much) and therefore the number or solar panels and the overall size of the highway model would reduce.

Offcourse it's too expensive at the moment but do you know how much the first computers were? With economies of scale and every second house signing up the price would become reasonable. We already have solar panels that run hotwater services and the like. The expensive batteries in those systems would be replaced with hydrogen separation and storage. It just needs support and some positivity.

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