The Housing Chronicles Blog: "Hydrogen Highway" slowly blowing up

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Hydrogen Highway" slowly blowing up

I always liked the idea of a hydrogen highway because it was looking forward to the day when fuel cells and electric cars would eventually replace gasoline as the fuel of choice for commuting. Of course fuel cells really aren't that new -- I had written an article on how they work back in 2000 for BIA-Baldy View Chapter's Inland Community Builder magazine -- but the politics and huge infrastructure investment of a well-entrenched oil industry continues to keep the development of alternative sources that are both affordable and practical more hope than reality.

So it shouldn't come too much of a surprise that Governor Schwarzenegger's initiative to provide funding to subsidize 100 fueling stations at $1.5 each will likely be a casualty of the state's fiscal emergency. According to an article in today's L.A. Times:

The state, through its Hydrogen Highway program, has been pushing to create a network of 100 hydrogen fueling stations by 2010. But the closure of two stations in recent weeks, and the pending closure of a third next month, will drop the number to 22. In addition, all three of the stations that California's Air Resources Board has agreed to finance have fallen through, most recently one to be erected by Pacific Gas & Electric in San Carlos, near San Francisco.

California's struggles underline the chicken-and-egg problem of hydrogen technology, which has been touted as a zero-emissions alternative to traditional engines. Which comes first: the cars or the pumps?

Like gasoline, hydrogen has to be administered through fueling stations. But with no hydrogen-powered vehicles publicly available, except as test cars or city buses, there is little demand for the volatile gas; that lack of demand is in turn a disincentive to create hydrogen stations.

And, according to a Wired magazine blog, the end could be near:

The governor converted his own Hummer to hydrogen power, which understates his personal investment in the technology. But with state revenues falling fast, budget cutbacks are the new reality in California. Even the allure of free government money can't get private parties interested. The writing is on the wall. This project is going to die.

I hope that isn't true, as planning today for the inevitable decline in oil production -- whenever it happens -- would likely result in a better outcome than catching up in desperation to keep the state moving.

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