Hydrogen Pump Station Using Air Products Equipment Opens in Washington, D.C.
A showcase hydrogen fueling station using technology from the Lehigh Valley opened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., in a bid to convince Capitol decision-makers that hydrogen is America's most promising future fuel.
The station is the first in the country to feature a hydrogen pump alongside standard gasoline pumps, according to Shell Hydrogen, a division of energy conglomerate Royal Dutch/Shell Group.
Shell Hydrogen will run the station in partnership with General Motors, which will use it to fuel a fleet of six test cars. The U.S. Department of Energy identified it Wednesday as the first piece of a prospective hydrogen fueling network connecting Washington and New York City. The station uses a hydrogen pump designed and built by Air Products and Chemicals of Trexlertown, the world's largest producer of hydrogen. Air Products has built more than 30 specialized fueling stations worldwide and is regarded as a leader in pump design.
"We picked Air Products because they're the best in the business," said Phillip Baxley, vice president of business development for Shell Hydrogen of Houston. Air Products also might help monitor the station's performance and repair it if needed, Baxley added.
The facility includes a pump station that resembles its gasoline equivalent, as well as separate storage tanks for liquid and gaseous hydrogen. Most early hydrogen cars run on high-pressure gas.
The hydrogen pump, while billed as "publicly accessible," won't have any immediate impact on Washington-area drivers. Hydrogen cars are years away from mass-market production.
Instead, the station on Benning Street, in the city's northeast quadrant, is seen as a destination for key policy-makers who have heard about hydrogen but might not have seen it work for themselves.
President Bush placed his support behind hydrogen in his 2003 State of the Union address, pledging $1.2 billion for research over five years and steering money away from other alternate fuels. More than $500 million has been allotted since then. Still, the technology is in early stages, and few people outside research labs have seen or driven hydrogen-powered cars.
Washington is "a good choice," said Judd Boyer, publisher of H2 Nation, a Nevada magazine that covers the hydrogen industry. "It brings it right there in front of the lawmakers."
The station also will join a growing number of sites performing real-world testing on hydrogen cars. Industry experts say those cars need to get out of laboratories and onto roads, to see how they fare in everyday driving.
Devices called fuel cells use chemical reactions to split hydrogen, creating a stream of pollution-free electricity. When fuel cells are "stacked" by the dozens, they make enough electricity to power a car. Water and heat are the only byproducts.
Hydrogen still has major hurdles to overcome before it can supplant oil and gasoline, though.
Scientists are trying to find renewable, clean ways to make large quantities of the element. A nationwide fueling network would need to be built, costing billions of dollars. And fuel-cell cars need to prove their reliability in all climates and driving situations.
The Washington station represents a step forward on the latter two counts, experts said.
Shell, meanwhile, sees it as part of a "Lighthouse Project" -- a company term for mini-networks of fuel stations in major markets. Those high-visibility projects will focus on transport in urban areas.
"Any fueling station that is put up right now is a good thing," added Boyer, the magazine publisher.
Air Products was picked by the U.S. government earlier this year to lead a team that will design a hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California, planning and building up to two dozen stations. Other team members on that project include Toyota, Honda, Nissan and BMW. The project could cost $91 million.
California has emerged as an early leader in building hydrogen networks. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hydrogen Highway project, announced earlier this year, seeks to line the state's major highways with 170 fuel stations by 2010.
Shell Hydrogen officials said it cost about $2 million to add the hydrogen pump to a gas station a few miles east of the U.S. Capitol. The cost of building hydrogen pumps is expected to fall as more are installed, officials believe.
Shell's Baxley said the station also includes an information center where visitors can read about hydrogen, watch videos and see a cutaway model of the kind of hydrogen storage tank used in prototype cars.
Hydrogen "will gain a greater public understanding" through that effort, Tama Copeman, Air Products' director of future energy solutions, said in a statement.
Officials who attended Wednesday's opening included U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; Jeremy Bentham, chief executive officer of Shell Hydrogen; Washington Mayor Anthony Williams; and several Air Products representatives.
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News