Hydrogen-fueled cars: The future is here

Kathy Uek

The gas station of the future opened Monday in Billerica.

Nuvera Fuel Cells, which produces hydrogen from natural gas, opened the state's first hydrogen refueling station and sold its product for the equivalent of $3 per gallon of gasoline.

"The future is here," said Brad Bradshaw Jr., president of the Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition, formed in 2004 to expand hydrogen, fuel cell and related industries in the state. "It shows commercial readiness. Once you build the infrastructure, the cars will come."

One of the hydrogen-powered vehicles available in California - the Honda FCX Clarity - gets the equivalent of 67.5 miles per gallon.

Bradshaw compared the opening of the state's first hydrogen refueling station in Billerica to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

"In general there will be many uses for hydrogen as an energy source in the future and it will often be used in association with fuel cells and other uses as well," said Warren Leon, director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, one of three divisions of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative of Westborough.

The Collaborative brings together leaders from industry, academia and government to promote ideas that lead to economic growth and a cleaner environment.

Nuvera Fuel Cells is a member of the Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition. MetroWest area member companies include Protonex Technology Corp. in Southborough and Nanoptek Corp. in Maynard.

To celebrate the opening of the Nuvera station, nine auto manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation and others sponsored a 13-day cross-country tour of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Mobile refueling stations are being provided on the tour.

Those vehicles came from manufacturers BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen. Hydrogen transit buses joined the tour along its route to Billerica.

In about a year, a hydrogen-powered bus will be moving customers at Logan Airport as part of a Federal Transit Administration project.

"You'll get off a plane and on the bus that does the circuit road around the airport," said Bradshaw. "There are close to 200 refueling stations in the world. Hopefully we will be able to put one on Rte. 128."

Hydrogen refueling locations in this country include California, Ohio, Arizona and Washington, D.C., among others.

The natural gas/hydrogen's emissions are about 80 percent lower than gasoline, which emits one pound of carbon dioxide per mile.

If a motorist drives 12,000 miles a year, the car sends 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, based on a car that gets 22 miles per gallons, said Bradshaw.

The future looks promising for alternative fuel sources.

Maynard-based Nanoptek Corp. is developing a technology that produces a renewable hydrogen directly from sunlight and water, which has zero emissions, said Bradshaw.

Under the governor's new Green Communities Act, compressed natural gas, biodiesel and ethanol will also play a role in achieving cleaner emissions, said Evan Dube, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources.

Last month, the first ethanol station in the state opened in Chelsea. Dennis K. Burke Inc. opened its biofuel center and sold the product for $2.85 per gallon.

Celunol Corp. of Dedham is one of many companies developing ways to create and distribute ethanol.

After the hydrogen road tour refueled in Billerica yesterday, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge displayed the hydrogen-powered cars.

In addition to Bradshaw, state and national officials and innovators touted hydrogen as a fuel source at a ceremony at the Volpe Center.

"The future of hydro fuel cells is very bright," said Leon. "And one nice thing about that is Massachusetts has a good cluster of fuel cell companies that will be part of this growing move toward fuel cells in the future. We are delighted to see this progress. ... Today is a good day."

The MetroWest Daily News