G.M. Has Hydrogen Hopes for Hawaii
December 8, 2010
By Jim Motavalli
The ideal early market for hydrogen fuel-cell cars is small, self-contained, facing exorbitant fossil fuel prices and has an abundant supply of renewable energy on tap, according to Charles Freese, executive director of General Motors’ fuel-cell activities.
Iceland, which fits that description, had actually announced its intentions to be the world’s first hydrogen energy economy, but access to fuel-cell cars proved to be a crippling barrier. The Hawaiian island of Oahu, with a population of one million, may be over that hurdle.
On Wednesday, G.M. announced the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative (or H2I in marketing speak) in Honolulu. It’s a new partnership with, among others, Aloha Petroleum (which operates filling stations), The Gas Company (which produces large amounts of hydrogen as a byproduct of making the synthetic natural gas it sells), the Energy Department (which is more bullish on hydrogen than it used to be), the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and various branches of the military, including the United States Pacific Command (that wants to reduce fossil-fuel dependence).
Mr. Freese said the partners are united in a vision of a hydrogen renewable energy future for Hawaii. The goal is to have 20 to 25 hydrogen stations operating on Oahu by 2015, the year that commercial fuel-cell vehicle production is expected to start (albeit in very limited quantities).
The Gas Company adds 7,000 kilograms of hydrogen daily to the natural gas it sends through 1,000 miles of pipelines in Oahu, Mr. Freese said. The hydrogen can be extracted at filling stations along the pipeline routes, he said, and sold to consumers. Mr. Freese estimates that the small network of stations could power 10,000 cars and “give every resident on the island unencumbered access to hydrogen.”
“There is a unique opportunity to get beyond hydrogen’s ‘chicken and egg’ problem here in Hawaii,” Mr. Freese said. “We will have both the cars and the infrastructure. Hawaii has a need to diversify from pure petroleum because it has some of the highest gasoline prices in the country. We will be able to deliver hydrogen at a price equal to or less than a gallon of gas on a per-kilogram basis, which means we can start to bridge all barriers.” A kilogram of hydrogen and a gallon of gas have approximately the same energy content.
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