Saturday, October 10, 2015         

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Isle initiative fuels hydrogen cars

Ten other entities join GM and The Gas Co. to build the state's necessary infrastructure

By Dave Segal


Hawaii has put the pieces in place for an infrastructure that could bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to the state by 2015.

Automaker General Motors Corp. and The Gas Co., which teamed up in May, will announce today they have been joined by 10 other companies, agencies and universities in an initiative to support the integration of hydrogen as part of the state's plan to decrease dependency on imported oil. GM said 20 to 25 hydrogen stations will be installed around Oahu.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles -- unlike electric-battery cars -- are more like what drivers are used to today because they don't require overnight charging and drivers can be in and out of a refueling station in about three minutes. Hydrogen cars have tanks for holding compressed hydrogen and a fuel cell stack where the fuel is turned into electricity to power an electric motor. While hydrogen can be burned in internal combustion engines, in the fuel-cell configuration it has no greenhouse gas emissions.

GM says its hydrogen-fueled vehicles will get the equivalent of 58 miles per gallon, have 2.3 times the efficiency (converting fuel to energy) of an internal combustion engine and have no emissions other than water vapor.

A key issue is whether there will be enough hydrogen fuel stations.

"The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has always had this chicken-or-the-egg dilemma facing it," Charles Freese, GM's executive director for fuel cell activities, said yesterday. "And the dilemma is which comes first -- the vehicles, and then you don't have a way to refuel them, or the infrastructure, and you don't have enough vehicles to support the infrastructure and the economics don't work."

Freese said without collaboration, it ends up being a problem because the energy industry and auto industry "aren't naturally connected in a way that allows you to bring those two things to market at the same time and make it all work."

Freese, who is in Honolulu to announce the new hydrogen partnership, said the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative will provide the framework for hydrogen vehicles in Hawaii to become a reality.

The other partners will be the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; U.S. Department of Energy; FuelCell Energy; Aloha Petroleum Ltd.; Louis Berger Group; U.S. Pacific Command, which is supported by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Marine Forces, Pacific; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; the County of Hawaii; University of California, Irvine; and the University of Hawaii.

Ted Peck, state energy administrator, said the hydrogen collaboration between the various parties "totally dovetails" with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which seeks to generate at least 70 percent of Hawaii's energy through energy efficiency and clean, renewable resources such as solar, wind, wave, biofuels and geothermal. Peck said the state plans to work with bus operators to get hydrogen buses into their inventory. He said the Big Island already has committed to using hydrogen buses while "informal discussions" have begun on Oahu with The Bus Co.

Jeff Kissell, president and chief executive officer of The Gas Co., said the utility has had hydrogen production facilities in place since 1974 so there will be minimal incremental cost for The Gas Co. to separate hydrogen from the synthetic natural gas it now produces and delivers in its utility gas stream. Kissell said The Gas Co. will let existing fuel station operators, such as Chevron, Shell 76 and Aloha, build the pumps to dispense the hydrogen.

"We want to be able to be able to supply them with hydrogen," he said. "That's our mission. Today, we don't supply propane to the people who have barbecues. We supply it to the people who are wholesalers who sell it to the people who have barbecues. Our business is to be a utility -- the first utility in the country supplying hydrogen."

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