California Hydrogen Highway Spans 800 Miles

By John Addison (4/23/07) The California Hydrogen Highway Network now extends from Chula Vista, near the Mexican border, to Arcata, near the Oregon border. You are invited to a virtual tour weaving over 1,000 miles as we visit some of the more interesting stations.

The City of Chula Vista pioneered its hydrogen station almost four years ago. Currently it has one shared fleet fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX. Chula Vista has taken the Honda to Torrance and back without refueling, demonstrating the vehicle’s 190 mile range. The new Honda FCX will have a range exceeding 300 miles. ISE Corporation has also paid for a number of H2 fill-ups in Chula Vista. In nearby Poway, ISE builds hydrogen and hybrid bus and heavy vehicle drive systems.

Driving up the coast, we pass two stations in progress. One will use direct solar electrolysis to make hydrogen, the other station is still a secret. We next arrive in Oceanside, home of the United States Marine Corp’s Camp Pendleton. This Marine operation has taken a leading role in making the nation more energy independent. Camp Pendleton has hundreds of electric vehicles, uses one million gallons of biodiesel annually, and has a hydrogen station just outside the USMC guarded perimeter so that public access is available. The USMC has tested a GM hydrogen truck and GM Equinox fuel cell vehicle. In a few months, vehicle use will expand when Camp Pendleton brings online its onsite reformation of natural gas and adds more hydrogen vehicles.

Irvine has the state’s sole public station offering 350 and 700 bar pressure. Although Honda is achieving 300 mile range with 350 bar, other auto makers such as GM need 700 bar to eventually exceed a 300 mile range. The Irvine station is at the convenient major intersection of Campus and Jamboree. It provides limited public access. The station is used by the University’s Toyota FCV hydrogen vehicles. These Toyota’s have also been successfully used by local corporations and an individual in a special lease program. The U.S. Postal Service also uses this station for its hydrogen fuel-cell van.

Diamond Bar is home to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). AQMD is committed to improve the health and air quality of the millions who live in Southern California. For years, AQMD has pioneered and helped fund alt-fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen vehicles. It facilitated the purchase of 30 Toyota Priuses modified to run on hydrogen, thereby bringing the cost of a hydrogen vehicle to less than $80,000. AQMD’s public station produces hydrogen with a mix of grid and solar electrolysis. The station is actively used by AQMD’s hydrogen DaimlerChrysler, Honda, and Quantum Prius vehicles. UPS also uses the station for a hydrogen delivery vehicle. The station has been popular with other fleets when traveling north or south.

Torrance is home to several hydrogen stations. The U.S. headquarters of Toyota and Honda both have stations and both use solar electrolysis. A new public station is coming online that is likely to sell hydrogen for less than equivalent gasoline prices by tapping into the existing hydrogen pipeline that runs from Carson to Torrance.

Los Angeles is home to a growing number of hydrogen stations. L.A. is the number one target market among auto makers, hydrogen fuel providers and the DOE for expanded use of hydrogen in transportation. The most interesting station is probably the BP public access station at LAX. Drive-up with a credit card and fill-up just like any other station. Currently the station is mainly used to fuel the fleet of five Mercedes F-Cell vehicles that are part of the LA Airport fleet. The airport is considering converting other hydrogen vehicles to hydrogen.

In downtown Los Angeles, hydrogen blending is being added to Trillium’s CNG station. The nation’s largest natural gas bus fleet, LAMTA, will experiment with a bus running on a blend of 30% hydrogen and 70% CNG.

Although traveling Southern California provides enough stations to keep even limited range hydrogen vehicles refilled, getting to Northern California is a problem. Currently hydrogen vehicles are successful only in local fleets. Individuals continue to buy gasoline vehicles for convenient and fast refills. In 2007, if you want to drive your hydrogen vehicle to Northern California you will (1) need to pull extra H2 in a trailer behind your vehicle, or (2) see if Honda will lend you its new FCX that might get the 330 miles from Burbank to San Jose. Drive the speed limit and brake frequently in traffic because modern hydrogen vehicles make excellent use of regenerative braking energy.

As we leave Southern California, we say goodbye to a number of other clean fleet operators who are piloting hydrogen and other electric propulsion vehicles. These operators include Sunline Transit, SCE, and a number of leading cities such as Santa Ana, Riverside, Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

In Northern California, VTA in San Jose carries hundreds of daily riders on its three hydrogen fuel cell buses. In Oakland and Berkeley, AC Transit carries over 1,000 riders daily on its three hydrogen buses that are plug-in hydrogen hybrids with an added 90kW of batteries per bus. AC Transit supervisors’ fleet of Kia and Hyundai vehicles is growing to ten vehicles. More buses are on order. Other hydrogen stations are coming online in San Carlos, SF Airport, San Francisco and Emeryville.

Next stop is West Sacramento, home of the California Fuel Cell Partnership where the latest exciting vehicles are constantly being driven. The State of California often fuels its fleet of hydrogen vehicles at this station, or at nearby U.C. Davis.

From here we can head north into magnificent mountains, redwood forests, and then dramatic cliffs over the ocean as we head towards Oregon. Before reaching the next state, we arrive at California’s northern most hydrogen station at the Schatz Research Center at Humboldt State University. Station funding was the result of an student team’s national award-winning proposal for of an energy park. Longer term, nearby Diversified Energy and Evergreen Pulp are seeking funding for biomass energy with hydrogen byproduct.

In Canada, Vancouver continues to expand its own hydrogen highway in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We will see if Portland and Seattle develop hydrogen stations that would extend a West Coast hydrogen highway over 2,000 miles in length to Whistler, Canada.

Hydrogen transportation continues to grow in California for several reasons including falling vehicle costs, falling fuel price costs, state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and state law to reduce petroleum dependence. California leads the nation in use of solar power, wind power and hydrogen transportation.

Skeptics have valid reasons to doubt hydrogen’s long-term success. The idea of a hydrogen highway was over hyped. A number of stations have hydrogen brought in on diesel trucks from remote reformation of natural gas to hydrogen. This approach offers no source-to-wheels greenhouse gas advantages over gasoline.

Many of the leading hydrogen stations are achieving major source-to-wheels advantages with renewable electrolysis, onsite reformation of natural gas, and use of byproduct and waste hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cells also extend the range and “recharging speed” of electric vehicles without adding internal combustion engines and the use of petroleum. Hydrogen may be displacing 100 million gallons of gasoline and reducing 500,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in California by 2020.

This Friday, April 27, hydrogen leaders from San Diego to Vancouver will converge in Sacramento for the California Hydrogen Business Council’s meeting. There will be a number of presentations from hydrogen station and fleet operators, long-range plans in California, fuel cell updates and more. CHBC Meeting Details:

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. John serves on the Board of the California Hydrogen Business Council. He can be reached at John is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet.

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