Special Order: A Green Hummer
October 5, 2003
By JIM MOTAVALLI
As a California gubernatorial candidate, Arnold
Schwarzenegger has been trying to pull his environmental
image out of the shadow of the Hummers in his driveway.
He has embraced hydrogen energy for automobiles and said
that he would develop public-private partnerships to
install hydrogen filling stations every 20 miles on
California interstates by 2010, an inducement for
automakers to build fuel-cell cars.
And to counter demonstrators who chant "A Hummer Isn't
Green" at his campaign stops, he said he would convert one
of his own 12 m.p.g. Hummers to run on hydrogen. (His
campaign did not respond to a request asking how many he
owns, although The San Francisco Chronicle says he has
According to a Reuters report that was widely disseminated,
Mr. Schwarzenegger said in Carpinteria on Sept. 21 that he
would fit one of his own Hummers with a fuel cell to test
the technology. But his advisers say that is not what the
candidate said. Rather, they say, he has a much simpler and
less expensive goal: to modify the V-8 engine of a Hummer
H2 to burn hydrogen gas.
It is not surprising that press accounts got it wrong,
because most automotive hydrogen research involves fuel
cells. And other remarks by Mr. Schwarzenegger suggest that
he may also have been unclear about the distinction. In a
Sept. 10 television appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor,''
he said, "I have my Hummer, for instance, right now, trying
to see if we can change it, for instance, to try it out and
see if it can be done, to have hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen
Tai Robinson, one of several hydrogen experts who are
submitting bids to convert the Schwarzenegger Hummer, said
that the candidate "didn't know until a few weeks ago that
it was possible to burn hydrogen in an internal-combustion
Modifying a Hummer to run on hydrogen gas requires some
engine work and hydrogen gas tanks. Terry Tamminen,
executive director of the Environment Now foundation in
Santa Monica, and an adviser to the Schwarzenegger
campaign, estimated that such a conversion would cost
$20,000 to $35,000 and take 60 days.
Building a road-ready fuel-cell Hummer would cost much
more. John DeCicco, a mechanical engineer who is a senior
fellow at Environmental Defense, an advocacy group based in
New York, said fuel cells were "still hand-built by
Ph.D's." He estimated the cost, which would have to include
safety and environmental certifications, at $2 million or
Among prototype fuel-cell cars, only the Honda FCX has been
certified by both the federal Environmental Protection
Agency and the California Air Resources Board.
A green Hummer already exists. The Army is testing a
hybrid-power Humvee (the military version of the Hummer H1)
that was developed in a government-industry partnership.
Some experts question the utility of a hydrogen-burning
Hummer. Amory Lovins, chief executive of the Rocky Mountain
Institute in Snowmass, Colo., a pioneer in clean-car
development, estimates that the vehicle will need storage
tanks many times larger than its gasoline tank to have a
Simply replacing the gasoline tank with a similar-size
hydrogen tank would yield a vehicle that could travel only
40 or 50 miles between fillups, Mr. Lovins said, "because
it's such a heavy, high-drag vehicle." Mr. Robinson said
his design includes four or five fuel tanks mounted on the
roof. Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program at
the Union of Concerned Scientists, said a hydrogen car
would produce much lower emissions, but any greenhouse-gas
reduction would depend on how the hydrogen was produced.
Alan Niedzwiecki, chief executive of Quantum Technologies
in Irvine, Calif., insisted that Mr. Schwarzenegger's plan
could work. Mr. Niedzwiecki, whose company is one of the
bidders, concedes that the size of the tanks is a factor,
but he said a 200-mile range could be achieved using "some
tricks of the trade."