Wednesday, April 21, 2004 (SF Chronicle)
DAVIS/Governor promises push for hydrogen fuel
Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Davis -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, pushing to radically change the
Californians drive, announced Tuesday an ambitious plan to line the
state's highways with hydrogen fueling stations in just six years and
usher in an age of more environmentally friendly vehicles.
Schwarzenegger pledged to champion hydrogen as a replacement
promising a not-so-distant future in which the much-hyped technology is
available along most of the state's main roadways. He called on academic
experts, the auto industry and the government to work together on a
hydrogen infrastructure plan that would create as many as 200 fueling
stations up and down the state at an expected cost of $100 million.
If successful -- and many have doubts -- it would be a
transportation transformation. Some Tuesday compared it to the country's
move from the horse and buggy to the Model T in the last century.
The announcement, like many by the celebrity governor, was a
made-for-television event. Schwarzenegger drove to the news conference on
the UC Davis campus in a hydrogen-powered Toyota Highlander. And much of
the action Tuesday was symbolic: The state has little money to invest in
hydrogen development and instead will rely on federal research dollars
investment from the auto industry and energy companies.
But by using his clout to call for change in car-crazy
governor signaled his commitment to environmental issues and reiterated
overarching philosophy of his administration. He said Tuesday he hoped to
create jobs through more hydrogen research and to "prove to the world
a thriving environment and economy can coexist."
In vehicles, hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell that
internal combustion engine. The fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to
produce electricity, emitting only steam from an auto tailpipe.
Schwarzenegger refueled the Toyota on Tuesday at UC Davis'
station, which looks like an oversize gas pump.
The governor's rush to hydrogen, which is a rapid rollout of
policies also espoused by President Bush, has plenty of skeptics.
Earlier this year a nonpartisan panel of experts convened by
Academy of Sciences concluded that the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
wouldn't hit showrooms until 2015 at the earliest.
And many environmentalists aren't sold on hydrogen's promise
greenhouse gas savior.
Some methods to refine hydrogen for use in cars utilize
natural gas and create pollution, noted Joseph Romm, an assistant
secretary of energy for President Bill Clinton and author of "The Hype
about Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate."
"You use a lot of fossil fuels at the front end to get to
back end," Romm said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Romm is concerned that government officials are putting too
on hydrogen to the detriment of hybrid technology that is already
successful, through models like the Toyota Prius or hybrid Honda Civic.
"It's really unprecedented for the government to say, 'We know
be successful in the marketplace,' " he said.
There are plenty of problems to be solved before hydrogen goes
Hydrogen would be used to power a fuel cell, which still costs
times as much as a combustible engine. And hydrogen storage raises
logistical and safety issues.
Still, there are indications that the hydrogen push may be
than California's ill-fated attempt to promote electric vehicles a decade
ago. While the auto industry fought that effort, most car companies are
already spending millions on hydrogen research.
After fueling up Tuesday, Schwarzenegger signed an executive
for his Environmental Protection Agency secretary, Terry Tamminen, to
up a blueprint for the so-called "Hydrogen Highway Network" by January.
Tamminen will examine everything from how to finance the network to where
the 200 stations will be located.
There are 17 existing fueling sites, including the one at UC
Tamminen noted oil companies like Conoco and ChevronTexaco had
interest in including a hydrogen pump at California gas stations.
Tamminen will explore public financing options, including a
California is also expects to get some federal money when hydrogen grants
are announced within the next few weeks, Tamminen said.
There are about 60 hydrogen-powered vehicles in operation in
now. In the Bay Area, the city of San Francisco recently began leasing
such cars from Honda, and AC Transit uses a hydrogen-powered bus along
routes in Oakland and Berkeley.
Experts believe it will take policy-makers' commitment to
to spur automakers to invest in mass production of hydrogen-powered cars.
"It's a chicken-and-egg problem at this point," said Daniel
director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. The
institute is a worldwide leader in exploring the use of alternative
An official with Honda said Schwarzenegger's pledge was
"This type of government initiative will put the fuel on the
put the rubber on the road," said Stephen Ellis, manager of alternative
fuel vehicles for Honda.
Ellis said Honda was probably 10 years away from producing a
hydrogen-powered car for mainstream consumers, however.