First Stop on the East Coast Hydrogen Highway Boosts Environmental Conservation

The first of at least 11 hydrogen fueling stations proposed for a "hydrogen highway" along the U.S. East Coast has opened for business. Built in Wallingford, CT, by Proton Energy Systems (PES), an on-site hydrogen-making company, and SunHydro, which will own and operate PES's hydrogen fueling stations, the plan is to construct a series of hydrogen fueling stations so motorists can drive from Maine to Florida using only hydrogen to power their vehicles.

Hydrogen from SunHydro’s Wallingford station is currently priced at $10 per kilogram. Sullivan estimates that a fill-up for a typical vehicle would cost about $50 and take the car about 350 miles.

The fuel the new station dispenses to customers' vehicles is collected directly on-site using Proton Energy’s "exchange membrane" system, which extracts hydrogen from ordinary water. The hydrogen extraction process is powered by electricity generated from on-site solar panels.

Fuel-cell cars are driven by electric motors. The fuel-cell is used to combine the hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity to power the car's motors. Because of the fuel-cell, the car has no need for the heavy and expensive batteries that provide the power for most electrically-driven cars.

Fuel-cell cars are exceptionally friendly to the environment because the only exhaust from the fuel-cell is pure water vapor. Carbon dioxide is produced only when hydrogen is extracted from natural gas. However, because the SunHydro station extracts hydrogen from water, using solar generated electricity, there are no carbon dioxide emissions whatsoever.

According to Tom Sullivan, who owns both SunHydro and Proton Energy Systems: “You’re literally driving on fuel that’s made from water and sun.”

At first, the Wallingford hydrogen station will be open to the public on a limited basis. Later, it will be open like any other fueling station, serving individually-owned hydrogen-powered vehicles and also contracting with businesses and the government to sustain their fuel-cell fleets and public tranit vehicles in New Haven and Hartford. Until now, Hartford’s public transit system has relied on trucked-in hydrogen to fuel its four fuel-cell buses.

Now that this station is open, SunHydro's agreement with Toyota for ten fuel-cell / hybrid vehicles to be deployed in the Connecticut area will go forward. The ten test vehicles, along with the new hydrogen fueling station, will form a fuel-cell demonstration program that will eventually grow to more than 100 vehicles. The first ten vehicles will remain in the Wallingford area for use by SunHydro and Proton Energy staff, as well as by other community members.

According to the National Hydrogen Association's spokesman, Patrick Serfass, there were 210 hydrogen-powered cars on the road in the United States in 2008, and that number has probably now grown to about 300 vehicles, mostly in California. The vehicles include the Chevy Fuel Cell EV, Hyundai Tucson FCEV and the Toyota FCHV-adv, as well as the Mazda RX-8, Honda FCX Clarity and the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL.

None of the fuel-cell powered cars now on the road are available for purchase in the United States, although some are available for lease.

Auto manufacturers are testing the vehicles as they gear up for 2015, when fuel-cell powered cars will most likely become generally available for sale, according to Serfass, provided that manufacturers believe there is a market for such cars.

Although SunHydro's hydrogen fueling stations are planned to operate at a loss, their presence is necessary if a market for hydrogen-powered cars is to develop in the U.S.

Founded in 1996, Proton Energy Systems is a global leader in hydrogen energy based in Wallingford, and holds 68 patents related to hydrogen generation, employing more than 75 people.

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Photo Credit: LHOON