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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 Captain Orgazmo on 1/28/2010 7:46:27 PM , Rating: 2
Basically these stations will never break even from a profitability sense. I can't imagine they would have a lifespan of more than 10 years before need for total replacement (either by incremental repair, or complete overhaul), and from a NPV point of view, they are totally worthless. However, profitability of these initial stations is clearly not the goal.

Hydrogen use is the only way forward in breaking the US's dependence on oil from antagonistic states, and any "environmental" concerns would become moot if the entire US economy were to collapse (as it will at current spending and trade deficit rates). Also, from a realistic (non-wealth-transfer-Al-Gore-world-government) point of view, use of hydrogen as an energy transfer medium is basically pollution free (or at least far more than the manufacture and disposal of batteries made from a limited resource sourced from a 3rd world country).

By Thats Mr Gopher to you on 1/29/2010 12:12:36 AM , Rating: 2
Using hydrogen isn't basically pollution free because of the inefficiencies in producing it, transferring it to the vehicle (even if produced on site) and the fuel cells themselves. You require several times over the amount of energy you end up using in the vehicle. Without overwhelming amounts of clean energy, hydrogen is far dirtier than battery electric vehicles.

And lithium ion batteries are recyclable with nothing really all that nasty in them unlike lead acid batteries, which are really the only batteries that present a major environmental concern. There is more than enough lithium available in a number of countries to carry electric vehicles through until hydrogen fuel cells are ready and as technology improves less and less lithium is required. We might as well be using them where appropriate, such as in cities which could benifit from EVs to cut down on smog and poor air quality.

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