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New Year’s Resolution: Commercialize Free Energy Technology

by David Niebauer

In the tradition of starting off the New Year with a resolution, I have decided to go large this year.  I predict that 2012 will be the year that low energy nuclear reaction technology (LENR), also known as “cold fusion,” breaks out of the lab and into the commercial market. I hereby resolve to commit my energy and resources to advance the commercialization of any device that generates clean, inexpensive, safe, abundant energy.

I recently co-founded Fusion Catalyst, Inc., a public benefit 501(c)(3) corporation with Bastiaan Bergman for just that purpose.  While we wait for a working reactor, we intend to support cold fusion research in any way we can.  Our “Open Catalyst” project is one step in this direction.  As it states on our website (www.fusioncatalyst.org), Open Catalyst is

“a crowd science project where many scientists globally can contribute to the search for the catalyzing material that enables low energy nuclear reactions. We plan to design and build a simple calorimeter reactor vessel that is automated and connected to the web. Scientists all over the world are invited to use this calorimeter and scan through potentially LENR-active materials. In this process, data is uploaded and shared in a completely open database. Every scientist in the world can slice and dice the data anyway he wishes. We envision that the power of the crowd can speed up the daunting task of searching for the secret catalyst.”

As the New Year commences, I thought I would try to articulate my view of the future of LENR – the reason we formed Fusion Catalyst in the first place.

First, I believe there are a number of inventors in the world who are on the verge of commercializing LENR technology.  Granted, many of these inventors do not come from established universities or government research programs.  What they do offer, however, is the promise of commercially useful reactors.  Give us access to a working reactor and we will put it to use.

The likely path for commercial introduction of this technology is through industrial and utility applications.  The reason for this is primarily economic.  It is reasonable for inventors who are not primarily concerned with academic research to seek out the largest markets and customers with the deepest pockets.  In addition, safety and permitting issues will be more rapidly resolved in the industrial application environment.

However, it is important that this technology not be concentrated in too few hands.  Ultimately, we believe that cold fusion will be an ideal distributed energy generation technology.  The materials — hydrogen and nickel — are not scarce; in fact, they are some of the most abundant elements on the planet.  The only thing of value therefore, and the thing to be controlled and “made scarce”, is the technology and application know-how.  Our goal is to have the technology and know-how distributed and made available on the largest scale possible.  This requires many scientists and inventors working and sharing their research and experience openly.

I do not believe that anyone will emerge with a fundamental “uber-patent” in this field.  I believe there will be many different approaches using different catalysts and perhaps no catalysts at all.  Let those who have filed patents show the world how their device works.  We will be happy to pay a reasonable royalty for its use. We have considered a patent pool or some other open source approach, but this will depend upon the available intellectual property and contributors to the project.  At this stage, there is still much research to be done.

Assuming that a working device becomes available under a scenario where the “scarce technology” does not make it cost-prohibitive, the first thing a reasonable man will do is explore how much useful work he can get out of it.  Even if the first devices are unstable and/or unpredictable, if it is useful we will put it to work.

The first distributed applications will likely be “off-the-grid” heating and cooling, as well as irrigation and other farming applications.  There is a wide range of applications for steam at sufficient temperatures.  And if electricity can be generated, whole communities can be formed outside of the metropolitan power centers of the world.

Another obvious application is desalination of water.  A working, inexpensive device used to produce clean, potable water would not only aid the most poverty stricken areas of the world, it would end the so-called “water wars” in a single stroke.

Other distributed applications would directly address hunger and poverty.  With cheap irrigation, new crops can be successfully grown, manual labor can be reduced and, eventually, hunger can be eliminated on the planet.

I anticipate an objection that, if we eliminate poverty in the world, we will be faced with a global crisis of overpopulation.  Even ignoring the Hobbsian cynicism underlying this objection (i.e., that we need war, poverty and infant mortality to keep human population in check), I believe that overpopulation will resolve itself in a world of abundance.  For one thing, people will not need to crowd into metropolitan power centers.  People will be free to spread out and live in what are now inhospitable areas of the planet.  Some will choose to remain in cities, but it will be a choice and not an existential imperative, as it is for many today.

Conflict is conditioned upon scarcity.  We don’t know what an “economics of abundance” would even look like.  I’m not saying that this new technology won’t bring new problems of its own – it will not transform human nature overnight.  But I am saying that, before we scare ourselves with unfounded nightmares, we should be open to the positive impact that such a technology can have on the world.

If the devices can eventually generate electricity without noxious emissions, without dangerous radiation, and without significant capital expenditures, we are freed from toil for the sake of survival.  Farming is difficult in most parts of the world.  With unlimited, free power, even if only in the form of steam, most of the work can be done mechanically.  Work will take on a totally different meaning.  New ways of living and associating will be invented.  We may actually start to thrive as a species on this planet.

Is this all a utopian dream? I don’t think so.  I am talking about what is possible for the human being. No one knows how things will turn out in the future.  I am dedicated to the global propagation of clean, limitless, free energy.  Reactors that employ nickel and hydrogen appear to be close to achieving these difficult-to-imagine goals. Don’t let it be suppressed, demonized, denigrated or over-protected.  The best way to accomplish this is through many different approaches to fundamental technology and applications.

We don’t know what an economics of abundance looks like.  Give us a working reactor capable of generating useful heat and we will begin exploring that question.  We believe that when this device is finally manifested, it will advance the human spirit in beneficial ways.  Fusion Catalyst was formed for the purpose of forwarding the work necessary to realize this goal.  We seek others who are like-minded to join us.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on financing transactions, M&A and cleantech.  www.davidniebauer.com

Storing Wind Energy as Hydrogen

By David Anthony and Ken Brown

Wind turbines capture the energy contained in wind.  The turbine rotates a shaft which powers an electric generator.  The electricity that flows from the generator can go to the wind farm’s grid connection to be consumed immediately or go to storage.  We have previously discussed the advantages of storage.  Let’s look at storage using hydrogen.

Water electrolysis produces hydrogen.  As the electricity flows through the water in an electrolysis unit, oxygen and hydrogen are evolved as gases at separate electrodes. In a 100% efficient unit, it takes about 39 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to create 1 kilogram (kg) of hydrogen.  In the real world, electrolysis units are about 80% efficient at best.  With an 80% efficient unit, it takes about 50 kWh of electricity to create 1 kg of hydrogen.  The hydrogen is piped to a hydrogen storage unit.  To avoid the high cost of compressing hydrogen or of cooling and liquefying hydrogen, a good alternative is to store the gas in a metal hydride slurry.  Safe Hydrogen uses magnesium as the metal and mineral oil as the liquefying agent.  With the use of small particles and a suitable dispersant, the particles will stay in suspension almost indefinitely.  Using a hydriding reactor, hydrogen is absorbed by the Magnesium Slurry with suitable pressure and temperature that ensures rapid reaction.  The Magnesium Hydride Slurry that is created in this reactor then can be stored in large quantities at ambient conditions.  The hydriding reaction to create the magnesium hydride slurry creates heat.  This heat is about 30% of the heating value of the hydrogen gas.  About 10 percentage points of this heat, or one-third of the heat, can be used to perform useful work such as generating more electricity.  The rest of the heat can be used for space heating or to produce hot water.  Thus the hydriding step in the process can be from 110-130% efficient.

There are a number of options for the stored slurry.  One, the hydrogen can be recovered on site and the hydrogen can be used to power a gas turbine-generator.  The wind farm owner has the option of selling into the real time and day ahead electric market at a time and price of his choosing.  Since wind blows more at night than during the day on average, and since consumers use more electricity during the day than at night, the wholesale price at night is often $0.02 per kWh or less.  It was reported in Business Week in September 2009 that year to date in the Texas Grid, the wholesale price of electricity was zero or below for 11% of the time.  During those times, the generation facilities on line were paying to put power on the grid.  The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) controls the wholesale price of electricity in the real time and day ahead markets to balance generation and load.  Why would generators pay to put power on the grid?  Large base-load coal and nuclear plants do not want to vary their loads.  Cycling the plants leads to premature wear and high costs.  Wind farms get a $0.022 production federal tax credit.  Until the price passes down through a negative $0.022, wind farms still receive revenue if the turbines generate power.

Another option is to use the hydrogen slurry to “firm” the wind power.  Wind does not blow consistently from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, or season to season.  The ISO that supervises the grid cannot count on the full power of the wind farm’s output.  Typically, only 15% of a wind farm’s output can be counted on as reliable capacity—likely to be available in any given time period.  This means that for a 500MW wind farm, only 75MW is counted as generating capacity by the ISO.  Often, to “firm” the wind farms output, a natural gas fired plant needs to be constructed—partially negating the carbon free output of the wind farm.

With storage, the picture can be different.  Below is an example of a 500MW wind farm delivering 150MW dispatchable power 100% of the time by using storage and gas turbines(GT) powered by hydrogen.  In this example, the ISO can count on 30% of the wind farm’s output.

Wind Storage in Hydrogen Slurry

 

The beige portion of the power generated is stored, the blue portion is delivered by the wind turbines to the grid, and the red portion comes from gas turbines powered by hydrogen.  The horizontal axis represents a probability of power going to the grid from the wind or gas turbine.  About 45% of the time in the year, 100% of the 150MW will come from wind with the excess going to storage.  About 40% of the time, power comes from both the wind and gas turbines.  About 15% of the time, all of the power comes from the gas turbine.  In any give hour or day, power may flow in any of these ways.

Advantages:

  1.  Dispatchable power can demand a higher price.
  2. The grid connection can have smaller capacity—it no longer has be sized for maximum wind farm output.
  3. Firming natural gas fired plants do not need to be built.
  4. The gas turbines can provide the regulation that natural gas fired turbines now provide.
  5. The wind turbines can spin 100% of the time the wind blows (excluding the time when the weather is too violent to operate).

 

David Anthony is Managing Director of 21Ventures.  21Ventures has made over 40 clean tech investemtns  across the globe since 2004. 21Ventures is a co-investor  in Safe Hydrogen, LLC 

Ken Brown  is CEO  of Safe Hydrogen, LLC, a developer  of  safe, transportable  hydrogen.  

Shell uses Hydrogen Pipeline for Fuel Cell Cars from Toyota, Honda and Mercedes

Shell Daimler CaFCP Shell uses Hydrogen Pipeline for Fuel Cell Cars from Toyota, Honda and Mercedes

Shell Opens Third Hydrogen Station in Southern California

Shell announced the opening of a new demonstration hydrogen station in Torrance, California, the first in the US to have hydrogen delivered to the site directly from an existing underground pipeline. Excess hydrogen is typically available on the hydrogen pipelines used by oil refiners. Hydrogen is used to provide cleaner gasoline and diesel. Although hydrogen is most often reformed from natural gas, it is also available from the electrolysis of water wastewater treatment byproduct, and chemical plant byproduct.

Southern California has been the center for test deployment of hydrogen fuel cell cars. The West Coast has been the area of greatest use of hydrogen fuel cell buses, including the 20 hydrogen buses in Whistler, Canada that transported about 100,000 visitors during the last Winter Olympics.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars provide a way to give an electric car a range of up to 400 miles with hydrogen PEM fuel cells that supply added electricity to an electric drive system. GM successfully piloted 100 Equinox fuel cell vehicles during its Project Driveway. Toyota is planning to test 100 new fuel cell SUVs as it prepares for 2015 commercialization. Toyota FCHV Test Drive. 200 of the new Mercedes-Benz B-Call F-CELL are being put into use. Several automakers are targeting 2015 for the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles.

50,000 Commercial Hydrogen Cars by 2017 from Toyota, Honda, GM, Mercedes

Between 2008 and 2010, the fuel cell industry experienced a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27%  according to the new Fuel Cells Annual Report 2011 from Pike Research. The California Fuel Cell Partnership forecasts over 50,000 hydrogen vehicles on California roads by 2017.

“Shell is pleased to be an active participant in the development of hydrogen-fuelled transportation, one of a small number of options to reduce road transport emissions in the longer-term,” said Julian Evison, General Manager of Operations for Shell Alternative Energies.  “Demonstration hydrogen filling stations allow us to evaluate a range of different technologies and learn valuable lessons about costs, consumer behavior, how to safely store hydrogen at different pressures and how to dispense it efficiently to different vehicles.’’

Initially, Shell expects 10 to 12 drivers to fill their tanks each day at the Torrance station’s two pumps, which provide hydrogen at both 350 bar (5,000 psi) and 700 bar (10,000 psi) pressure. Current fueling capacity is 48 kg. of hydrogen per day, equivalent to dispensing 48 gallons of gasoline. To exceed 200 mile range, most new fuel cell cars require 10,000 psi. Honda is the sole achiever of long-range at 5,000 psi with the Honda FCX Clarity. Only a handful of California stations support the high pressure fueling.

The close proximity of the hydrogen pipeline to TMS campus led Toyota to think beyond vehicles to consider additional ways to use hydrogen. In 2010, Toyota partnered with Ballard Power Systems to install a one-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell generator to offset peak electricity demand on campus. The fuel cell generator will be fed directly from the hydrogen pipeline through an existing tap on the TMS property. Pipeline hydrogen used on campus will be offset with the purchase of landfill generated renewable bio-gas.

The stand-alone station in Torrance offers only hydrogen and will be open 24 hours a day. Local fuel cell vehicle drivers will be trained to use the dispensers using personal access codes. The station is located on land provided by Toyota at the perimeter of its US headquarters.

Shell Delivers Hydrogen 24×7

“Vehicle demonstration  programs  and  demonstration  stations  like  the Torrance  station  are  a  critical  next  step in preparing the market for advanced  technology  vehicles,”  said Chris Hostetter, Toyota GVP of Product and Strategic Planning. This is the third demonstration station Shell has developed in the region. Shell opened the first integrated gasoline/hydrogen station in California in 2008 (in West L.A.) and a smaller sister station in Culver City in 2009. Shell is planning on building a hydrogen refueling site at one of its gas stations in Newport Beach later this year.

The station has been anticipated for years due to the potential of pipelined hydrogen to be less expensive than gasoline. It is now open after years of delay thanks to support from Toyota and Shell, who were not initial project partners. The much touted California Hydrogen Highway was never funded.

In addition to Shell Hydrogen and Toyota, project partners for the Torrance hydrogen demo station include Air Products, the US Department of Energy and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

H2O to H2 w/o C

by Richard T. Stuebi

Although much of the ink these days about innovative vehicles relates to plug-in hybrids, work continues to explore the potential for hydrogen-based fuel cells to play a key role in the transportation sector — particularly in light of the recent decision by Congress to reauthorize funding for hydrogen autos.

Admittedly, as hydrogen critics and skeptics are quick to point out, the vision for personal automobiles running on hydrogen is very long-term and thus quite murky due to a number of factors, perhaps most notably the lack of a ubiquitous hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The challenges facing hydrogen vehicles are real, but for fleet vehicles with limited service radii, the lack of refueling infrastructure is less of a problem, as one dedicated refueling system can fit the bill. As a result, fleet vehicles – especially inner-city buses – are the primary focus of current testing activities for hydrogen fuel cells in transportation.

Of course, to achieve the full environmental benefits of the hydrogen economy vision the hydrogen will need to be derived by electrolyzing water via renewably-sourced electricity (e.g., from the sun or the wind) to power the electrolyzer.

Although conceptually straightforward, renewably powering electrolyzers turns out to be a non-trivial challenge. This is mainly because solar and wind electricity voltage and current are highly variable, and the electronics of the control systems in electrolyzers tend not to like fluctuations in input power.

To address this challenge, a team here in Cleveland is spearheading a project to install a solar/wind-powered electrolyzer to generate hydrogen from Lake Erie water, with the hydrogen to supply a refueling station that will power a fuel cell bus serving Cleveland-area riders.

With seed funding from the Cleveland Foundation, the project is being managed by the Ohio Aerospace Institute, and the team includes NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA), the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin (NYSE: PH), and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX). The Great Lakes Science Center is already home to a 225 kw wind turbine and a 32 kw photovoltaics installation, and will be home to the electrolyzer-fed fueling station. RTA will run the fuel cell bus on the recently-renovated Euclid Corridor. United Technologies will be providing the fuel cell bus, and Parker Hannifin is providing key control systems for the fueling station. If all goes well – meaning, primarily, raising an additional $1 million or so to fully complete the project – the hydrogen fueling station and fuel cell bus will operate on a demonstration basis in a couple of years.

Of particular note, NASA is providing the intellectual expertise in developing the algorithms for controlling the electrolyzer to match the variable input power from the solar and wind generating systems. This expertise comes from considerable mission experience, in which photovoltaics systems generate electricity from the sun to power the spacecraft, and energy storage and charge control systems must accommodate power supply interruptions as planetary bodies transit in front of the sun.

To the team’s knowledge, because managing the intermittency of electricity supply in electrolyzer operation is non-trivial, there is only very limited experience with renewable electrolysis for hydrogen production, and virtually none involving more than a little bit of hydrogen production daily. So, this Cleveland project could be an important step along the path to developing truly carbon-free hydrogen-fueled transportation solutions.

As the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at the Cleveland Foundation, Richard T. Stuebi is on loan to NorTech as a founding Principal in its advanced energy initiative. He is also a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners, and is the founder of NextWave Energy.

Piss-Powered Cars Move Closer to Reality

by Richard T. Stuebi

Although I pride myself a little bit on some of the titles for my posts (I was a headline writer for my high school newspaper), even I couldn’t make this one up.

Credit must be given where credit is due: earlier this month, Fast Company hosted a research note by Ariel Schwartz about the development of an approach to produce hydrogen from urine that requires much less voltage than is necessary to electrolyze pure water.

Yes, that’s right: hydrogen produced cheaply from urine, one of the most renewable of all resources.

I’ve written previously about piss-poor cars, but someday in the future, we may be talking about piss-powered cars.

Thanks to Kristi Spears Tanner of the Ohio Business Development Coalition for making me aware of this development, via a link on her Facebook page. Always looking for good things to promote from Ohio, Kristi noted that it should be no surprise that this whizzy technical innovation was made by researcher Geraldine Botte at Ohio University.

So, to do your part to move us towards the hydrogen economy, all you may have to do is go down to your local pub and have a few. After all, you don’t ever actually buy beer, you just rent it.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Blogroll Review: P-Power, B-Buy, C-Can

P-Power

Pee power. Scientists may have found a way to extract hydrogen from urea, one of the main major components in ordinary pee. That compounds is way for the body to get rid of toxic ammonia that comes out at the end of various metabolic processes.

In many rural areas, urea would be the ideal source of nitrogen for fertilizing plants but it may also be a source of power one day.

Hank Greek at EcoGeek says:

Gerardine Botte at Ohio University has figured out an easy and efficient way to break the bonds in urea to produce hydrogen. The process consumes roughly one quarter of the energy needed to electrolyze water. And, yes, the world has a fairly plentiful (and renewable) supply of urea. Maybe not enough to power all our cars, but it’s a start.

And all this time, I was only interested in the nitrogen. :)

B-Buy

Best Buy! This next story is about the role of national retailers in transforming the economy to greenness. Joel Makower gives us Best Buy as an example. He sums it up really nice as to the role of these big companies:

While cutting-edge innovation will likely come from countless start-ups, it will be up to the mass merchandisers to accelerate market uptake beyond the green devotees and early adopters.

C-Can

Canadians can! The country up north is one of my favorite countries. I’ve also wondering what the government was doing to encourage corporate sustainability. Our friend Tyler Hamilton at Cleanbreak has a summary.

In other news, Robert Rapier reminds us that thermodynamics wins.

Celcias reports that the 100th coal plant has been defeated. I’m sure Lester Brown would be proud!

Finally, is the big battle between Google and Microsoft? Earth2Tech suggests otherwise.

Hydrogen: The Fuel of the Future. Will It Always Be Thus?

by Richard T. Stuebi

For years, the utopian vision for powering humankind’s energy requirements has been based on hydrogen, produced by decomposing ever-abundant water (H2O), via renewable sources of power (e.g., sunlight). When hydrogen is used in fuel cells to produce electricity on-demand, the only by-products of the chemical reaction are water vapor and pure oxygen. In other words, an energy cycle that is infinitely sustainable (at least as long as we have a sun).

Of course, there are a number of well-documented challenges to achieving the so-called hydrogen economy. Producing, transporting and storing the hydrogen are all expensive relative to the current conventional energy approaches — and require a major change-out of infrastructure, which would entail a massive societal investment. Fuel cells also remain expensive, due to high materials costs and short lifetimes, until further engineering obstacles are overcome.

With this as backdrop, it’s interesting to read “Sun + Water = Fuel”, an article in the current Technology Review. The article profiles the work of Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at MIT, who claims to have discovered a catalyst that facilitates a reaction in which oxygen is generated from water by sunlight — making, in effect, an artificial leaf. Of course, if one produces oxygen from water, one is also producing free hydrogen.

Therefore, Prof. Nocera is suggesting that he is on the verge of discovering how to produce hydrogen from water via sunlight. If true, this would be a major breakthrough towards the hydrogen economy, dramatically simplifying the hydrogen production, storage and transportation issues, because water and sunlight are respectively inexpensive and free — not to mention almost ubiquitous.

That being said, we must be cautious to avoid getting prematurely overexcited. To illustrate, let’s not forget the promising claims made in 1989 by Pons and Fleischmann of cold-fusion: twenty years hence, and other than lots of controversy, not much to show for it. And, even if Prof. Nocera is really onto something, there’s still the little issue of repairing hydrogen’s public reputation in the wake of the Hindenburg disaster: seventy years later, and many urban legends about hydrogen’s dangers still linger, as in this recent satire.

This reveals a constant occupational hazard for those of us who work in the cleantech field: things just don’t change as fast as we often would like for them to change. In the case of hydrogen, many things must change, and some of the changes — technical, institutional and cultural — must be profound, for hydrogen to become a major actor in the world’s energy economy. I hope that day comes far sooner than I frankly expect it will.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Hydrogen Heaven

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: the Honda FCX Clarity Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

What is it?
The Honda FCX Clarity is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It takes hydrogen and oxygen to generate the electricity needed to power the vehicle. It has a range of about 270 miles and a top speed of 100 MPH.

Why is it better?
As you may have noticed I’m rather fond of clean, interesting vehicles. Of course, as they say in the TV spot, wouldn’t it be great if you could replace something harmful with water? Yes, indeed. That would be great!

But which of these is unlike the other: the Tesla Roadster, the cityZENN, the Vectrix motorcycle, and the Honda FCX Clarity?

You guessed it. It’s the FCX Clarity. Unlike the first three, the Honda runs itself on electricity generated from hydrogen, and emits only water vapor and heat into the air. And as much as I hear hydrogen isn’t worth the hype, the FCX Clarity is a pretty cool zero-emissions vehicle (and will be certified by CARB).

Where can you find it?
If you live in Southern California, you’re in luck. A limited number of FCX Clarity vehicles are going to be leased in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine come summer. The lease amount will be around $600 per month for three years and it includes maintenance.

If you don’t live in Southern California, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. According to the Honda website, they’ll roll out vehicles as the hydrogen infrastructure develops (assuming it does ever develop).

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at Huddler.com, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

General Motors Looks Beyond Oil

By John Addison. “One of the most serious business issues currently facing General Motors is our product’s near total dependence on petroleum as a source of energy. To address this issue, we have been implementing a strategy to displace petroleum through energy diversity and efficiency,” explained Dr. Larry Burns, Vice-President of Research and Development for General Motors, during his keynote speech on April 2 at the National Hydrogen Association (NHA) Conference.

When Dr. Burns speaks, the industry listens because he directly influences the future of General Motors and of the auto industry. March was one of the worst in years for all vehicle makers. GM and Chrysler saw a 19% drop in sales; Honda a more modest 3% drop. There was a direct correlation in sales loss and fuel efficiency. GM and Chrysler fleets gulp oil refined fuels; Honda’s takes large sips.

Make no mistake, GM is determined to be less dependent on oil as Larry Burns clearly stated, “We view renewable biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen as the most promising alternative energy carriers for automobiles. We are working very hard and fast on all three fronts to develop and implement meaningful technology solutions that provide our customers with a range of choices from “gas-friendly to gas-free” vehicles.” Next generation biofuels, however, will likely take years to get from labs to large scale production. When available, they will primarily be blended with gasoline and diesel, rather than requiring new stations. GM, and other auto makers, is frustrated to see hydrogen in only a few dozen stations globally.

Electricity is the most promising alternative fuel for GM and most auto makers. Electric motors are far more efficient than gasoline engines. Electric motors are used in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. In late 2010, General Motors will start selling the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that will give many drivers 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, because it will primarily run on electricity. In three years, consumers may have multiple plug-in choices including Toyota’s planned offering.

The Volt is an implementation of E-Flex. GM’s E-Flex is an electric drive system centered on advanced batteries delivering power to an electric motor. Additional electricity can be delivered by a small engine coupled to a generator, or by a hydrogen fuel cell. In the future GM could elect to implement E-Flex in a pure battery-electric vehicle.

Over two million vehicles now use electric motors and advanced batteries, thanks to the early success of hybrids. Electric drive systems will continue their strong growth as they are implemented in battery electric vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The plug-in hybrids’ big competition will be battery electric vehicles (EV). London’s congestion tax is cascading into a growing number of cities that will require zero-emission vehicles. Announced EV offerings are coming by 2010 from Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and emerging players such as Smart, Think, Tesla, Miles, and a host of Asian companies that will display at the upcoming China Auto Show. With the average U.S. household having two vehicles, these EVs would be perfect for the 80% of U.S. driving requires far less than 100 miles per day.

Where does this leave hydrogen? Fleets. Hydrogen’s fleet use continues to grow, especially in public transportation. Three factors are contributing to the growth of hydrogen vehicles: energy security, success of natural gas vehicles, and the growth of electric vehicles.

Hydrogen delivers energy security by being available from a wide range of sources including waste hydrogen from industrial processes, electrolysis of water, biosources, and steam reformation of natural gas. Where truck delivery is avoided, all of these approaches significantly reduce greenhouse gases, source-to-wheels, in comparison to diesel, gasoline, and current biofuel alternatives. Emission Comparisons from LCFS

In transportation, hydrogen may be the long-term successor to natural gas. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. Over 90% of the natural gas used in the USA is from North America. Transportation use of natural gas has doubled in only five years. Natural gas vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles, and taxis.

Natural gas is primarily hydrogen. The molecule is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon. Steam reformation makes hydrogen from CH4 and H2O. Hydrogen is used in fuel cell electric vehicles with far better fuel economy than the natural gas engine vehicles that they replace. For example, at Sunline Transit, their hydrogen fuel cell bus is achieving 2.5 times the fuel economy of a similar CNG bus on the same route. Specifically 7.37GGE to the CNG vehicle’s 2.95GGE. Sunline has a new fuel cell bus on order with even great expected gains. NREL Report

Most early adapters of hydrogen vehicles are natural gas fleet owners with vehicles that use compressed natural gas. Some fleets are mixing hydrogen with natural gas and running it in the existing CNG vehicles. A common approach is a 20% blend with minor changes such as timing in existing engines.

Public transportation is hydrogen’s biggest success. The San Francisco Bay Area is now upgrading from six hydrogen fuel cell buses to twelve. The area will grow from carrying two thousand passengers a day on hydrogen, to five thousand, using lighter next generation drive systems with fuel cells whose warranties have expanded from 1,000 hours to 12,000 hours.

For the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler will use twenty hydrogen fuel cell buses which will transport over 100,000 visitors during the games, then continue as the majority of Whistler’s fleet.

Although hydrogen will grow in fleets that can install the fueling and the vehicles, it will be many years before average consumers consider hydrogen vehicles. Outside of Southern California there is a lack of public infrastructure. To achieve a range of 300 miles, most auto makers want high pressure (700 bar). In California, only Irvine offers the higher pressure. GM is putting nine temporary 700 bar fuelers in Southern California. GM is also putting another 100 hydrogen vehicles on the road. Project Driveway Article

Honda is ahead of all other hydrogen vehicle makers in offering its acclaimed FCX Clarity for $600 per month. It does fine with the 350 bar pressure offered at California’s 24 hydrogen stations and delivers a 270 mile range. The vehicle will probably only be offered to select individuals in California communities where public stations are available such as Irvine, Torrance and Santa Monica. Even for Honda, Fuel Cell Marketing Manager Steve Ellis observes that “Success with hydrogen is more like a marathon than a sprint.”

To succeed, all businesses must monitor their industry, looking for points of inflection that lead to a new paradigm. In talking with Larry Burns at the NHA conference he told me that he has seen the signs since 2001. 9/11, Katrina, and oil prices have signaled major changes. All the world’s major economies from the USA to China are highly dependent on imported oil. Dr. Burns now concludes that in 2008 we are at a tipping point.

He stated, “We truly are at a defining point in the development of the technology. What and how we execute over the next 5 years will shape the next 50 years!…Together, we must act rather than debate, create the future rather than try to predict it, and solve the challenges we face now rather than handing these challenges off to future generations.”

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He will be leading a panel about PHEV and EV at the FRA Renewable Energy Conference and presenting “The Great Fuel Race” at Fuel Cell 2008.

Heavy-Duty Vehicle Trends for 2008

By John Addison (2/8/08). Most oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are not from passenger vehicles; they are from the heavy-duty vehicles, ships, and planes that move all our goods, serve public transit, and provide the infrastructure that keeps cities running. Heavy-duty operators have often been years ahead of passenger vehicle owners in using advanced technology to do more with less fuel.

Hybrids. Wal-Mart operates 7,000 trucks that in 2005 drove 872 million miles to make 900,000 deliveries to its 6,600 stores. Wal-Mart has set a goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of its new heavy-duty trucks from 6.5 to 13 miles per gallon by 2015. 26 billion pounds less of carbon dioxide would be emitted over 15 years as a result. Demand for oil is also reduced with over one billion less gallons of diesel required over that 15 year period.

Wal-Mart is defying the conventional wisdom that hybrid technology is of little help for large trucks that already have efficient diesel engines. Wal-Mart delivers goods from regional warehouses on an optimized route to its stores. Routes often involve heavy stop-go city driving. With hybrid technology, every touch of the brakes causes energy to be captured. Where trucks previously idled with engines running, hybrids can run all auxiliary power with the engine off, using large battery stacks for the electricity.

Wal-Mart has more than 100 hybrid light-duty vehicles. Now Wal-Mart sees bigger potential savings in heavy-duty Class 8 trucks. Wal-Mart plans to replace Peterbilt 386 big-rigs with hybrid versions of the same truck by 2009. Wal-Mart Clean Fleet Report

Plug-in Hybrids. PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart‘s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions. Fleet customers for Eaton hybrid power have included FedEx Express, UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, The Pepsi Bottling Group, and the 14 public utility fleets into which were placed 24 hybrid-powered repair trucks.

Idle-off. In many heavy-duty fleets, engines idle 40% of the time at stops for many auxiliary needs including air conditioning, heating, running electronics inside the cab and more. These auxiliary functions can now be powered with the batteries in hybrid powertrains, with auxiliary power units such as fuel cells, and with truck-stop electrification. Heavy-vehicles can now be programmed to automatically idle-off after a prescribed amount of stop time, such as California’s five-minute law. Idle-off is possible by GPS location, such as specific bus stops. Wal-Mart alone estimates savings of $25 million with idle-off and APUs for its 7,000 trucks. Transit operators save millions of gallons of fuel and keep passengers happy with electronic air conditioning without diesel fumes.

Natural Gas. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. These vehicles consume 238 million gasoline gallon equivalents. That amount has doubled in only five years. CNG vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles and taxis. Natural gas fleets are likely to double again in the next five years. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LAMTA) serves over ten million people with the nation’s largest natural gas fleet, comprised of over 2,000 CNG buses. A growing number of riders enjoy higher-speed service with LAMTA’s bus rapid transit.

To help clear Southern California air, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach established a $1.6 billion Clean Truck Superfund to purchase 5,300 alt-fuel trucks by 2010 out of a total fleet of 16,800 Class 8 trucks. All are likely to be Westport LNG systems installed in Kenworth T800 trucks.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Many passenger cars have the potential to meet all driver needs by plugging in for a nightly recharge of batteries in electric vehicles. Buses running 16 hours daily and climbing 12% grades can also be electric, but most need the added electricity provided by hydrogen fuel cells. Over 3,000,000 people have ridden these vehicles in Europe and the U.S.

Energy Security. The Army’s NAC is pursuing hybrid truck technology to significantly reduce the Army’s fuel consumption and logistics needs, to provide field-generation of power and to provide quiet, stealth operations. The U.S. Army has a fleet of over 246,000 vehicles with a goal to reduce fuel consumption by 75% by 2010.

Green Supply Chains. ConAgra has contracted with Nova Biosource Fuels to convert food processing waste into biofuel, greatly helping with waste regulations. This provides Nova Biosource Fuels with a low-cost feedstock for high-quality biodiesel. ConAgra has guaranteed the purchase of 130 million gallons per year. California-based State Logistics, has grown its business by providing more-sustainable shipping options for companies like Clif Bar. Prologis will only build USGBC LEED certified distribution centers.

On February 20, fleet managers, vehicle technology leaders, government leaders, other experts and stakeholders will gather in San Diego to discuss their success in all of these areas at the Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Conference 2008.

“Clean Heavy Duty Vehicle 2008 highlights the vehicles and fuels that will actually cut our greenhouse gases and reduce our dependence on oil,” said John Boesel, President and CEO of WestStart-CALSTART, a leader in spurring green tech in transportation. “The conference brings together the key business and political leaders helping bridge the technological and financial gaps to bring clean transportation solutions to market.”

Stay tuned for more exciting progress in 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Riding on Sunlight

By John Addison (9/20/07). Electric light rail is a popular way to whisk millions through cities with speed, ease, and minimal emissions. Per passenger mile, source-to-wheels emissions are far less than people trying to navigate busy cities in their cars. Even if there is a coal power plant supplying the electricity, the efficiency of moving masses with efficient electric drive systems results in very clean transportation.

Unfortunately, the initial capital expense of light rail prevents many worthy projects. MTA New York City is spending over $7.5 billion to extend its sub-way. Most light-rail costs over $10 million per mile.

Buses can move millions for a fraction of the cost of light-rail. Bus routes can be easily changed as cities grow, change in shape, and alter in transportation demands. Light-rail tracks are likely to be fixed for over forty years; bus routes may change annually. For most major cities, the ideal is intermodal solutions that include both bus and light-rail.

Now AC Transit in Oakland, California, is making bus travel as appealing as light-rail. Each day, over one thousand people ride on three hydrogen fuel cell buses in Oakland and in environmentally conscious Berkeley. By 2012, five thousand people daily will be riding on twelve such buses. The only emission is water vapor.

At the heart of these electric buses are Siemens electric-motors, similar to the larger motors which power electric light-rail. The motors are powered by electricity generated from 120kW fuel cells and from 95kW of batteries. The batteries are also used to capture braking and downhill energy. The batteries are recharged nightly, making these buses plug-in hybrid hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The hydrogen is made by onsite reformation of natural gas. Basically CH4 is combined with steam (H2O) to produce hydrogen. The electricity to power the reformation and the compression of the hydrogen gas is from solar power. The 150 kg/day of hydrogen is used by the three buses and up to eleven Hyundai vehicles for supervisors.

The net result is electric buses that can run hundreds of miles up 18 percent grades, and then be cleanly refueled in minutes. By 2010, the buses are likely to run 16 hours daily, up from the current eight. In five years, AC Transit is likely to buy at least seven hydrogen buses annually, staying ahead of California’s zero-emission bus mandate.

These are the most advanced buses used in the world with 40-foot Van Hool A330 bus chassis modified to accommodate UTC’s PureMotion™ 120 kW fuel cell power system and ISE’s hybrid-electric drive system. Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 300 to 350 miles, and batteries recharged during braking can provide an extra 95kW of power for acceleration and climbing steep grades.

HyRoad, this exciting model of public transportation, was made possible by more than $21 million of funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, California Transportation Commission, CalStart, Chevron Corporation, Department of Energy, and the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a preliminary report on its evaluation of AC Transit’s fleet of fuel cell buses. The report includes eight months of performance data on three fuel cell buses in service, as well as data from a fleet of diesel control buses.

AC Transit; SunPower (SPWR); MMA Renewable Ventures; and PG&E (PCG) dedicated the AC Transit’s state-of-the-art 621-kilowatt solar electric system. The system, located on AC Transit facilities in Hayward and Oakland, is expected to generate approximately 767,000 kilowatt hours of power each year.

Over the 30-year life of the system, AC Transit expects to save $5 million in utility costs as a result of the clean, renewable solar power that the system will generate. It will offset the production of more than 14.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions – equivalent to planting 2,000 acres of trees or removing 1,400 cars from California’s highways.

“AC Transit is committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and improving the quality of life for the entire region in which we operate,” said AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez. “While installing a solar system to power our facilities makes a great deal of financial sense, it will also provide more than enough power to offset the 189,000 kilowatt hours per year required to operate AC Transit’s hydrogen production facility, and help lower the overall amount of energy we use from conventional sources.”

Instead of spending millions to install the solar system, AC Transit arranged to pay 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour to MMA Renewable Ventures, which finances and owns AC Transit’s solar power systems under a SunPower Access™ program. “AC Transit selected an innovative financing structure to effectively meet its financial goals and environmental objectives,” said Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures. “With its forward-thinking approach and commitment to clean energy, AC Transit is demonstrating that solar power is an affordable option for public agencies concerned with reducing carbon emissions.”

“AC Transit is an environmental leader that is doing its part to address our ongoing energy challenges,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower vice president. “By generating solar power, AC Transit is reducing demand from the utility grid, reducing operating costs, and improving air quality for its community. This energy solution saves money while helping the environment.”

A large portion of the installation cost of these solar systems was covered by a $1.9 million incentive from PG&E, under California’s Self Generation Incentive Program. Through this program, PG&E can provide almost $950 million in incentives over the next 10 years to help customers buy their own solar systems.

In the past twenty years, solar power has dropped 90% in price due to technology breakthroughs and production volume. Over the next twenty years, we will see the same improvement with hydrogen transportation. Already, the hydrogen used cost AC Transit no more per mile than diesel fuel used in similar buses.

As fuel cells reach lives beyond 10,000 hours, and as costs are significantly reduced, advanced transportation like AC Transit’s HyRoad will become available worldwide. When it does, we can thank AC Transit and its partners for leading the way.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report (www.cleanfleetreport.com). September 24 to 27 he will be researching future articles at Solar Power 2007. On October 25 he will be a featured speaker at the California Hydrogen Business Council. Permission is granted to reproduce this story.

PG&E’s Clean Fleet and Visionary Future

By John Addison (8/21/07). Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use a dramatic 55% through regenerative braking on road, and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.

Vehicle-to-Grid

A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

Hydrogen Energy

by Richard T. Stuebi

Whenever someone mentions “hydrogen” to me, I immediately think of fuel cells. So, when someone mentioned to me in passing the other day something about BP (NYSE: BP) and hydrogen in Southern California, I was really confused: I didn’t think that BP was doing much with fuel cells these days.

Now I understand. In May, BP announced (press release) that it has partnered with mining-giant Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP) to form a joint venture, named Hydrogen Energy, that has licensed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology from GE (NYSE: GE) and will develop IGCC projects involving carbon sequestration — and one of its first projects will be a 500 megawatt facility located adjacent to BP’s refinery in Carson, California. (project description)

Hydrogen Energy’s efforts therefore have nothing to do with fuel cells. Hydrogen is simply the main constituent of the syn-gas produced from the gasification of the input fossil fuel (in Carson’s case, petroleum coke), which will be combusted in a conventional combined cycle for power generation.

A few observations occur to me from this development:

1. The selection of the L.A. Basin of California for one of the first projects is extraordinary. It’s hard enough to permit a new office building in Southern California, much less a 500 megawatt powerplant that is more akin to a refinery. Then too, with California’s climate initiatives, placing any new industrial infrastructure in-state has to be massively challenging. I would have guessed someplace like Texas for one of the early IGCC plants — easy to get things done there. The Carson IGCC project is only possible because the gasification step produces relatively pure streams of by-products that can relatively easily be diverted from being emitted into the air — including CO2, which will be pumped underground. So, the Carson location for an early project is great PR not only for all the corporate parties (“We’re producing clean domestic energy for California”), but for the state of California too (“See — we’re not anti-energy, we support energy businesses and new energy projects.”).

2. The sequestration of the CO2 will occur in the Southern California oil/gas fields, which are very mature and can thus benefit from enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques to pressurize the underground reservoirs and thereby improve yields. The increase in oil/gas production, worth a lot at current energy prices, helps offset the costs of CO2 capture and pumping. As more carbon sequestration projects occur, I expect to see many of them in areas with old producing fields that can benefit from EOR, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois and so on. Oh, coincidentally, these states have lots of coal to burn in the IGCCs.

3. According to the press release BP partnered with Rio Tinto in order to obtain access to Rio’s
coal mining/extraction expertise. In this context, the selection of Rio makes sense: like BP, it too is a global colossus of a company, and gargantuan corporations tend to work best with partners of similar size. If other big oil companies want to follow in BP’s footsteps to pursue IGCC with a coal company as partner, there will be few players in the coal industry of similar heft. Indeed, I wonder if one way to view this partnership as BP moving more into coal — and if other oil majors will increase their coal activities?

4. The naming of the partnership as “Hydrogen Energy” is an interesting choice. I used to think that the “hydrogen economy” hype of a few years ago had produced a semantic burden to be avoided rather than embraced. But, here come BP and Rio Tinto — no dummies — deliberately positioning their venture not as “carbon-free” or “zero emission” or “clean coal”, but rather as “hydrogen”. This has significant branding implications. If Hydrogen Energy becomes a success, hydrogen as an energy source (or, more properly, an energy storage approach, or energy “carrier”) may therefore become more validated in the eyes of those who are currently skeptics.

5. In turn, if Hydrogen Energy really takes off, and hydrogen’s reputation is burnished, fuel cells may ultimately benefit substantially. If many IGCC plants become installed across the continent, it becomes more plausible to envision hydrogen transport and distribution on a mass-scale to support fuel cells — initially in selected stationary power applications, perhaps ultimately for vehicles too.

Of course, it will take years for us to see if Hydrogen Energy becomes a big deal, or is yet another example of a highly-touted joint venture between two mega-corporations that ultimately comes to very little.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. (Note: Mr. Stuebi has no affiliation whatsoever with BP.)

Fuel Cell 2007 Conference Highlights

By John Addison (6/19/07). Several hundred engineers, researchers, and managers shared fuel cell technology, trends, and market success at the Fuel Cell 2007 Conference. In some areas, fuel cells generate millions in revenues from commercial deployment; in other areas, fuel cells are early in research and development. A number of commercial products involve hydrogen PEM fuel cells. Business is steady for molten carbonate and phosphoric acid fuel cells. There was optimism about solid oxide fuel cells using a variety of fuels including landfill methane, natural gas, diesel, JP-8, and biomass.

In 2006, Ballard (BLDP) shipped 147 PEM fuel cells to replace lead-acid batteries in fork lifts. In large distribution and manufacturing environments, every minute counts. Fuel cells are cost justified in improving the productivity of moving goods. Fuel cells are more heat and cold tolerant, providing competitive advantage in many distribution centers.

Plug Power (PLUG) is aggressively pursuing the fork lift business. Plug recently acquired General Hydrogen, an early leader in Class 1 and 2 forklifts. Plug also acquired Celex, a leader in Class 3 forklifts. Contrary to concerns of some investors, it appears that Plug’s acquisitions may help Ballard who supplies fuel cell stacks to the acquired companies. Plug Power’s business model appears to be migrating towards integrated products and services for specific markets and applications. Ballard is a leader, in supplying fuel cell stacks; a field of growing and intensifying competition.

Toyota is also active in the hydrogen PEM forklift business since its acquisition of Raymond, a long-time provider of forklifts and material handling systems. Hydrogenics (HYGS) continues to see traction in fork lifts. Fuel cell forklift solutions are hybrid, also involving batteries for regenerative braking. Presentations forecasted 5,000 fuel cell sales in 2009 for forklifts and 20,000 in 2010.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Intelligent Energy, I was at the conference presenting One Million Hydrogen Riders in California by 2020 – An Optimistic Scenario. Free Report.

Hydrogen fuel cells are making progress in cars and heavy-vehicles. Several auto makers will be adding more vehicles in demonstration fleets this year. Several have ranges of 250-miles and more. General Motors recently demonstrated a 300-mile range with its Sequel. GM is rumored to also start demonstrating vehicles running hydrogen in internal combustion machines (HICE). GM was to speak at the conference, but cancelled at the last minute. The reason, perhaps, was a GM reorganization.

General Motors thinks its hydrogen fuel cell is ready to move out of the research lab. GM is shifting responsibility for the work from its research labs to engineering groups that develop engines and vehicles for commercial production. 500 people are being reassigned.

The shift is a sign of GM’s increasing determination to have a fuel cell vehicle on the market by around 2011. “We’re transitioning from science and research to developing real propulsion systems,” Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and strategic planning, said in an interview.

Another area of hydrogen fuel cell success is providing remote stand-by power for the telecommunications industry. Batteries in temperature-sensitive areas have failed to often. The financial stakes are too high in telecommunications to continue depending on unreliable batteries. Telecoms such as Verizon and Sprint are buying from PlugPower and ReliOn. The Western States Alliance is buying from Altergy and Hydrogenics for stand-by back-up.

Big and hot fuel cells have a growing pipeline in the 250kW to multi-MW space. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) and Fuji offer molten carbonate energy solutions with by-product heat. Projects are using natural gas, propane, biogas, and anaerobic digester (AD) gas. POSCO, a Korean steel manufacturer, ordered a 7.5MW from FCEL to reduce their heavy use of 28 cents/kWh grid electricity. Linde will distribute FuelCell Energy for water treatment.

Long-term, molten carbonate growth may be threatened by solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Keenly aware of this, FuelCell Energy finalized terms with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a $36.2 million Phase I award to develop a coal-based, multi-megawatt solid oxide fuel cell-based hybrid system.

Six industry teams have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, these results reflect progress towards commercially-viable solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

The six industry teams, led by Acumentrics, Cummins Power Generation, Delphi Automotive Systems, FuelCell Energy, General Electric, and Siemens Power Generation, designed and manufactured SOFC electrical power generators in the 3-10 kilowatt range. The industry teams’ prototypes surpassed the Department of Energy (DOE) Phase I targets. The prototypes demonstrated:

  • Average efficiency of 38.5 percent and a high of 41 percent, exceeding the DOE target of 35 percent.
  • Average steady-stage power degradation of 2 percent per 1,000 hours, besting the DOE target of 4 percent per 1,000 hours.
  • System availabilities averaging 97 percent, topping the 90 percent DOE target across the board.
  • Projected system costs ranging from $724 to $775 per kilowatt, which eclipsed the DOE intermediate target for an annual production of 250 megawatts and positions the teams to meet the 2010 target of $400 per kilowatt target.

For home stationary power applications, it will require combined heat and power (CHP) to financially justify fuel cell installations. Adaptation is predicted in markets where utility-delivered costs are high for heat and electricity, such as in Japan and Korea. Ballard will be delivering a higher temperature PEM to address the CHP market.

In the long-run, conference attendees showed more enthusiasm for SOFCs which can use existing fuels, such as kerosene in Japan and natural gas in other markets. For example, Ceres Power (CWR.L) is developing low cost and robust fuel cells that will be combined into stacks capable of generating between 1kWe and 25kWe. EDF Energy Networks, the UK’s largest electricity distributor, will be offering Ceres for home CHP.

SOFC may be the fuel cell of choice for auxiliary power on trucks and military vehicles. Delphi Automotive Systems has SOFCs in development for on vehicle use of diesel and JP-8. Cost effective removal of sulfur is a major issue, especially for the DOD’s JP-8.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of micro fuel cells. Major Japanese consumer electronic companies were at the conference, but no products were presented. Continued reduction in power demand plus advancements in batteries and ultracapacitors may obviate micro fuel cell adoption.

The Fuel Cell 2008 Conference is planned to be in Long Beach, California, in June 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. His articles have appeared in print and electronic magazines with over one million readers: Yahoo Finance, The Auto Blog, The Auto Channel, EV World, Cleantech, Green Post, Seeking Alpha, Hydrogen Nation and others. Mr. Addison is a popular speaker, conducting over 1,000 workshops in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Micro Fuel Cell Killer – What’s Next?

About 4 or 5 years ago micro fuel cells were quite a hot topic in cleantech. They were going to power our laptops, cell phones, PDAs, blackberries, hand held multimedia devices, etc.

The story ran like this:

The digital age and increasing customer demand for more power hungry features like bandwidth, multimedia, et al on mobile devices like laptops, PDAs and cellphones mean the increase in power requirements are outstripping the pace of technology of lithium ion battery – therefore the only solutions will be micro fuel cells. And since battery manufacturers are a plodding, unimaginative lot, silicon valley and smart scientists can build a company to leapfrog them.

We saw major players like Motorola, Toshiba, Intel, and others taking a look, and startups like Smart Fuel Cells, Medis and MTI Micro seeking to make their name on a fuel cell the size of a credit card (or thereabouts) .

Today, still no micro fuel cell powered devices are on the market, many of the larger players have gone quiet, and all the startups are talking up battery charger (not device power pack) products – especially for the military and first responders.

What happened? What killed the micro fuel cells? Can they come back? And is something similar lurking around the corner for solar, electric vehicles, biofuels, next generation batteries or one of today’s other darlings of the cleantech sector that we can learn from?

Well . . . let’s see:

The technology is actually hard – Micro fuel cell technology proved a harder nut to crack than everyone thought (at least at anywhere near the same cost point) – and the product development issues given the state of the technology proved to be a real challenge.

Rational expectations – Market reaction to the underlying drivers has been aggressive. We’ve got global warming and high energy prices making people like Sun, Dell, and others hell bent on designing power saving devices – which the consumer is now interested in buying as a premium product. Once the electronic product companies actually put their minds to reducing power usage – well, it turned out that you actually CAN optimize a device to save power, and still pack enough features in to sell product.

The incumbent technology – Despite high profile thermal issues, the incumbent lithium ion technology turned out not to be so bad, and has continued to keep pace (as far as us lowly consumers can tell) – Bottom line: I now carry 2 very small 4 hour battery packs for my laptop – I can last a transocean plane flight without needing to plug in.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure – And yes, having to make infrastructure changes is very costly in anything energy-esque, whether its in fuel, entrenched distribution, or tooling. As usual, winning technologies in energy tend to be owned by businesses that find a way to work with existing infrastructure, not to try and replace it.

And in the end, the batteries (and the big battery makers) still rule the roost, for now.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Honda’s FCX: Out-Priusing the Prius

by Richard T. Stuebi

While the Toyota Prius is the current “must-have” of the “green” community, Honda (NYSE: HMC) is aiming to trump Toyota (NYSE: TM) in the eco-friendly car derby.

Recently, Honda announced that it will commercially-unveil a fuel cell vehicle aimed for U.S. drivers, the FCX — not 10 years from now, not 5 years from now, not in 2010, but in 2008. Yes, that’s right: next year, a fuel cell car will be offered by a major auto manufacturer in the U.S.

Last Friday, the USA Today wrote an enthusiastic review after test-driving a prototype FCX. They raved about pretty much everything — from acceleration, to quietness, to interior size, to its styling, to carbon-neutral seat fabrics. It did seem like a pretty nifty car — even more Prius-like than the Prius itself.

Only in passing did the story mention the big bugaboo: where will drivers get the hydrogen to operate the car? Clearly, the main initial market for the FCX will be in California, where a significant effort called the Hydrogen Highway Network is underway to build hydrogen fueling stations across the state.

I’m encouraged by Honda’s decision to introduce a fuel cell car in the U.S. market. I have to admit that I’ve been somewhat pessimistic about fuel cell vehicles for a variety of reasons — not only hydrogen availability on the road, but also hydrogen production economics and environmental issues, fuel cell economics and reliability, and customer acceptance of a new fuel and prime mover for their cars.

Honda acknowledges that the FCX is not going to be accepted or acceptable to the mass-market upon release: production will not be in the millions, and no doubt the self-selecting trial customers will experience some hassles and nuisances that most customers wouldn’t be willing to endure. However, the commitment of Honda to such a public test fleet indicates that they are true believers in the long-term potential for fuel cell vehicles.

If Honda leads the way in tackling the vehicular challenges for fuel cells, and California sets the example on how to roll out hydrogen infrastructure, then it remains for some major player to solve the remaining obstacle to the hydrogen economy: production of hydrogen from renewable energy sources (i.e., carbon-free and limitless fuel) at economically reasonable terms. Who’s it gonna be?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

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: http://www.californiahydrogen.org/page.cfm?content=45&event_ID=66

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 www.cleanfleetreport.com. John is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

By John Addison (4/17/07) Question: What could be more American than healthy competition? Answer: Healthy competition that reduces our dependency on foreign oil. By 2010 you may be filling your “tank” by plugging-in to your electric and natural gas utility. Today fleets turn to utilities to power everything from light electric vehicles to heavy natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.

At the recent Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Institute (AVFi) National Conference, major utilities were there with exciting presentations and demonstrations. Major California utilities included Sempra Energy (SRE), Southern California Edison (EIX), and PG&E (PCG). Major automotive and truck manufacturers showed their latest alt-fuel vehicles. Globally there are over 30 million electric vehicles and over 5 million natural gas vehicles.

Vehicles give utilities added markets for electricity and natural gas, the opportunity to use excess off-peak electricity that is now wasted, and long-term opportunities to capture electricity from vehicles (V2G) when electricity is in peak demand.

Southern California Edison provides electricity to over 13 million customers. Edison’s Gordon Smith presented the ability for 70% of U.S. vehicles to be powered with off-peak electricity. Edison provides electricity to customers with thousands of electric vehicles, forklifts, sweepers, scrubbers, airport equipment, truck stop electrification, ship port electrification, and plug-in hybrids. Over 300 of Edison’s own fleet are electric vehicles. Some of its 240 Toyota RAV-4 EVs have achieved a life of up to 150,000 miles. Edison Programs

Running a utility requires large fleets including vans and trucks. Edison is aggressively testing hybrids and plug-in hybrids. SCE now is testing a DaimlerChrysler (DCX) plug-in hybrid-electric Sprinter vans with a 20 to 30-mile all-electric range through a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DaimlerChrysler.

SCE is partnering with EPRI, other utilities and Eaton Corporation (ETN) to establish a program for Class 5 plug-in hybrid troubleman trucks using the Ford (F) F550. They will offer the ability to drive in an all-electric mode, and to operate in a stationary mode (without idling). The electric mode is perfect for the hours that these trucks are used at work sites and when running hydraulic lifts. The electric mode eliminates emissions, fuel cost and noise.

SCE is also working with other fleet operators through the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to place prototype heavy-duty hybrid trucks in operation, with a goal of leading to production commitments and expanded purchases. Based on initial testing of the trucks at an independent facility, these vehicles are projected to cut air emissions by up to 50%, and use 40% to 60% less fuel, compared to similar diesel-powered trucks. These trucks are likely to become a standard Class 6 offering by International, using an Eaton hybrid drive system.

AVFi presented the “Industry Pioneer” award to the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra utility. Sempra is the nation’s largest natural gas utility, serving 29 million customers. The Gas Company owns and operates a fleet of 1,100 natural gas vehicles. It operates 26 natural gas stations. It helped LAMTA create the world’s largest fleet of natural gas buses (over 2,200). LAMTA is also expanding into buses running on hydrogen blended with CNG and battery-electric buses.

PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase revenues one billion dollars if there is a shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion.

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,100 natural gas vehicles. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced over 2.7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

PG&E is actively field testing both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).

PG&E has ordered four Phoenix Motorcars (http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/) all-electric sport utility trucks (SUTs) for June delivery. PG&E has given Phoenix a conditional order to buy 200. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range using Altair Nano (OTCBB: ALTI) batteries with their unique lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) electrode materials. Both Phoenix and Altair were on display at the AFVi Conference. Altair has claimed a breakthrough in several areas: specific power, battery life of over 10,000 charge cycles, “zero explosions and safety issues” test results, and fast charge capability. Altair Nano Batteries:

“PG&E is firmly committed to reducing our carbon foot print by using innovative alternative-fuel technologies,” said Bob Howard, PG&E vice president of gas transmission and distribution. “By adding the Phoenix Motorcars SUTs to our leading clean fuel fleet, we are taking an important step in developing a proven and necessary electric vehicle market. Electric vehicles provide a practical solution to help us reduce our dependency on petroleum-based fuels, keep California’s air clean, and meet the challenges associated with climate change.” PG&E News

Along with Edison, PG&E’s fleet was one of 14 in the country chosen to test the plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road. PG&E, partnering with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, also recently placed into service a prototype Plug-in Toyota Prius to demonstrate the benefits of light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles.

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, through which they supply natural gas to more than 200 commercial and private fleets throughout the PG&E system. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets.

Construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is also scheduled to begin this summer. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was awarded a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant for the project. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas and condition it to serve the on-site dispenser during the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated.

The relationship between big oil and big utilities are complex. Oil refineries are among the world’s largest users of electricity. Oil companies are transforming into integrated energy providers that sell large quantities of natural gas to major utilities, making the utility a distribution channel for the natural gas producer. Some energy giants are expanding into wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Edison and BP have a joint venture to build a large scale electric plant that will not run on coal, not on nuclear, not on natural gas. The Carson plant will run on hydrogen and output 500 MW of electricity. By products will include enough hydrogen to inexpensively fuel thousands of vehicles in Southern California. Another byproduct will be CO2 that will be sequestered as part of increasing oil production. Hydrogen power plant details:

Edison also has an existing hydrogen fueling station in partnership with Chevron.

Currently, fleets are taking the lead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are developed by system integrators and specialty companies. DaimlerChrysler was at the AVFI conference with its 25 mph GEM. 40,000 have been sold. Rumors are flying that in 2008 Toyota (NYSE:TM) will begin fleet tests of its new plug-in hybrid using lithium batteries. Consumer sales may start in 2009. By 2010, Mitsubishi (MSBHY) will start selling an EV to consumers in Japan. Drivers will increasingly use electric power.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

Healthy competition is leading America to cleaner electricity and cleaner vehicles. Innovative utilities are taking an important role in the transition.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report http://http://www.cah2report.com/. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. John owns stock in ALTI.

Actress Q’orianka Kilcher Now Drives a Zero-Emission Honda FCX

By John Addison. Q’orianka Kilcher was acclaimed for her starring role as Pocahontas in the 2005 film The New World. The National Board of Review awarded her Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actress. Ms. Kilcher was recognized as the Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture by the American Latino Media Arts Awards.

Q’orianka Kilcher is now turning heads as she silently drives by in her new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX. The car’s only emission is water vapor. Honda’s advanced fuel cell technology program has been praised by fleet users during the last five years, typically leasing the vehicles for $500 per month. Several fleets have allowed a number of drivers to use the vehicles by making them part of employee pools. Two years ago, the Spallino family became the first retail customers for a fuel cell vehicle. 17-year-old Q’orianka Kilcher is now the youngest customer.

Ms. Kilcher took the keys to vehicle in Hollywood. Nearby, she will find a number of places to fill the vehicle in the Los Angeles area. The station at LA Airport is public. Others are for community fleets with limited public access requiring authorization.

“The best way to demonstrate the importance of next generation vehicles like the Honda FCX is to put the next generation of drivers behind the wheel,” said John Mendel, senior vice president of American Honda (HMC).

“As a young person today, I feel it is important to take initiative toward seeking positive solutions and stepping up the quest toward clean energy and environmental preservation,” said Q’orianka Kilcher. “When I first started pursuing my dream of a zero emissions vehicle as my first car, it seemed like a pretty unrealistic dream. With Honda’s innovation and support, my dream of helping the environment became a reality!”

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish. John serves on the Board of the California Hydrogen Business Council. http://www.californiahydrogen.org