Is Hydrogen in Our Future?

Two recent bits of news has caught our notice, as it seems hydrogen powered cars might just start to become a reality. The first was Honda’s launch of its H powered, FCX Clarity. Though it’s only offered, as a $600/month lease to folks in Southern California, it still represents a start. Why Southern Cali? That’s where they’ve started to build a real hydrogen fuel distribution system.

The second piece of news, is closer to home as Florida DEP, the department of environmental protection, announces the opening of Central Florida’s second Hydrogen fueling station. Florida gains speed in the demonstration of alternative fueling technology. My take is, it’s time to move beyond demonstration. Industry tells us a hydrogen powered future is ten to fifteen years away. Do we have that much time?

Florida’s journey to reduce the state’s collective carbon emissions took another step forward today as Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael W. Sole joined executives from Ford Motor Company, BP America, Inc., Progress Energy Florida and the United States Department of Energy to officially open the state’s second hydrogen energy station in the last six months. In 2004, the international corporations selected the Sunshine State as one of three sites in the nation to demonstrate pollution-free hydrogen fuel cell cars.

“Florida is pleased to be opening the state’s second hydrogen fueling station,” said DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole. “By using state-of-the-art technology we are demonstrating the power of alternative energy in Florida’s future.”

The hydrogen demonstration project is part of an initiative unveiled in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Energy. Through the federal government’s Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project, Ford supplied the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Progress Energy Florida with six hydrogen-powered Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles. BP America supplies the cars with hydrogen fuel through a grant from the State of Florida.

“BP is committed to developing cleaner fuels,” said Maria Curry-Nkansah, BP’s hydrogen business development manager. “With this station, we will continue our work to gain real-world experience in hydrogen fueling infrastructure and help build public awareness of this developing technology. This program is an example of how government, energy companies and the auto industry are working collaboratively to assess the potential of hydrogen as an alternative fuel.”

One of the hydrogen-powered Ford Focus gives DEP park rangers a pollution-free ride during everyday operations at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which attracts nearly 185,000 visitors annually. Home to a handful of freshwater springs, the 8,000-acre park protects the headwaters of the Wekiva River. Two more vehicles are utilized by DEP’s Central Regulatory District for field inspections. Progress Energy Florida’s energy-efficiency specialists and customer account managers are using the remaining three hydrogen-fueled cars at their Jamestown Operations Center.

Hydrogen can power cars by replacing gasoline in an internal combustion engine or as a source of power for a fuel cell. A fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which powers the car and emits only steam. Worldwide, energy companies, automakers and oil companies are investing more than $2 billion annually on research and development to advance hydrogen technology as a new, sustainable source of energy.

“The opening of this second station under the Ford-DOE Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project represents another step forward for hydrogen as an alternative fuel,” said Sheral Arbuckle with Ford Motor Company’s Research and Advanced Engineering Department. “We have made much progress in hydrogen propulsion over the past 15 years and are pleased that our Energy Partner, BP, has continued their efforts in supporting this project with the much needed infrastructure to fuel our vehicle fleet. This is another major milestone in this joint government and industry initiative.”

In addition to the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle demonstration fleet, in May, Governor Charlie Crist opened the state’s first hydrogen energy demonstration station in Orlando. The station fuels hydrogen-powered shuttle buses and provides a test platform for showcasing the production, storage and dispensing of hydrogen fuel. Partners in that fueling station were Ford Motor Company, Chevron Technology Ventures and Progress Energy Florida.

“Progress Energy is pleased to once again collaborate with our public and private partners on the successful launch of yet another renewable-energy initiative,” said Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida. “Our balanced approach to meeting Florida’s future energy needs means a strong commitment to state-of-the-art renewable technology, and this facility is another example of our belief in the promise and potential of hydrogen to meet those needs.”

On July 13, Governor Charlie Crist signed a groundbreaking set of Executive Orders at the “Serve to Preserve: A Florida Summit on Global Climate Change,” which brought together academic experts, scientists, environmentalists and governmental and private sector leaders to discuss Florida’s energy future. The three Executive Orders represent the Governor’s commitment to addressing global climate change, and a promise to reduce Florida’s greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency and pursue renewable energy sources.

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