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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Economy

Adam Housley

Los Angeles, CA

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Can the Hydrogen Highway Exist?

June 15, 2010 - 12:59 PM | by: Adam Housley

Sitting alongside what was once the last couple miles of Route 66, pumps of petrol are in full use, but one stands alone, and for most of the time we’ve been here, goes unused. This pump looks the same from afar, but as you move closer, the blue writing sticks out from the familiar Shell red and yellow logo.

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What makes this pump different is compressed Hydrogen and what could be the future along the mother road for American drivers. Chevrolet, Honda, Chrysler and most other car manufacturers believe that by 2015, car production could be ramped-up to make Hydrogen viable as a fuel alternative and a possible answer to get America off of fossil fuel and the dependence on foreign oil.

According to Shad Balch, the Advanced Technology Product Spokesman for General Motors, “Right now, we’ve put more than 100 fuel cell Chevy vehicles on the road to demonstrate that the technology is real, that it’s not a science project, that we can use this sort of application hopefully that will spur the investment into the infrastructure.”

Balch and Honda’s Jessica Fini say that their companies and others are already in the product demonstration phase and that these vehicles are already being leased by everyday American’s ready to help do what they can to end the dependence. The cars are filled up with compressed hydrogen much the same way you fill your car with gas. Basically, you plug in the hose and 5 minutes later the car is full. The cost is much less than a full tank of gas and the compressed hydrogen recharges the electric batteries, which only emits a water vapor, so it’s virtually clean.

While the thought of all this is exciting, some critics claim it just isn’t as easy as it sounds. First, the cost of these cars is much more than most consumer’s are willing to pay. GM and Honda believe they could be below $50,000 by 2015 if enough cars are ordered, but that would mean a ton more infrastructure. Right now, only 200 stations world-wide carry hydrogen and that is not nearly enough to fuel a change. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed a network of stations up and down California called a “Hydrogen Highway” by 2010, but right now the state is far from that.

Jim Hossack, a consultant at Auto Pacific thinks it would be great to move away from fossil fuels, but believes we are a long way off since the cost of using petroleum can’t be beat. He says, “I think its very wishful thinking that we could use hydrogen by 2015, it’s already 2010, I expect as much change in the next five years as the last five years, in terms of alternative fuels it isn’t a whole lot of change.”

It does come down to price, but if our time sitting here at a Shell station in West Los Angeles is any indication, American’s are at least interested in this idea more than before. One by one people come up and begin to ask for information about hydrogen. This pump that sat silent earlier this morning and likely has gone with little notice since it went in, now gets more action as people check it out. Is it the future? Well 2 years ago when gas prices spiked, people began to think about change and the BP spill seems to have fueled that curiosity even more.

According to Balch, “It certainly has fueled the anger to the use of petroleum and from our perspective we can’t get off petroleum quick enough, I say that standing under a shell station, but yeah if anything it’s just raised the debate about methods and urgency to get off the use of petroleum.”

The debate about how compressed hydrogen is created and whether it is cleaner and leaner is also contentious. Ideally, the stations could put a small plant on the roof of the overhang and use solar and wind power to create the electricity which would be pumped into a water tank. It is being done here at this Shell station, but it is an expensive process and one that each station would have to commit to. Again…you need customers. It is possible, because it is being done here in West Los Angeles.

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