In its continued attempt to become as green as possible, the state of Hawaii will receive 119 Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell cars from General Motors. As part of a strategical deployment called Project Driveway, GM is dedicating nearly a 10th of its production line to Hawaii, in part because Oahu-based Hawaii Gas has come up with a unique plan to distribute hydrogen to gas stations through its existing 1,000-mile pipeline.
Hawaii Gas produces 7,000 kilograms of hydrogen everyday, which is enough to refuel 7,000 cars on a regular basis. GM has invested $1.5 billion in fuel cells and has been trying to concentrate its hydrogen car program in regions with widely available refueling.
Oahu could deliver an unmatched driving experience, along with Iceland, which is another contender for a hydrogen network, though it may be focusing more on electric battery cars.
Around the turn of the century, fuel-cell cars were believed to be imminent and early predictions placed 40,000 Mercedes-branded cars would be on the road by 2004, but that was overreached.
The hydrogen infrastructure is still evolving, which is why the Hawaii plan is exciting, and according to Jeff Kissel, CEO of Hawaii Gas, the company’s hydrogen business is the result of a happy accident. The company produces synthetic methane gas from leftover naptha, a byproduct of gasoline refining. The gas is pipelined, with hydrogen added to increase efficiency and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. Hydrogen can be separated from the gas stream and routed to gas stations along the pipeline corridor, and though the Hawaii is developing a hydrogen-enabling fund, targeted at $10 million, it is essentially paying for this out of pocket and it is not subsidized in any way.
It is believed that there is a future for hydrogen here and it can be delivered at the same cost as gasoline, which is expensive in Hawaii. Though hydrogen is more expensive than gasoline, it is also more energy dense, meaning the cost of driving would be approximately equal in the company’s plan. By placing six stations on the island of Oahu, nobody will be more than 10 minutes from a hydrogen filling station; eventually, 12 to 24 stations are planned.
One reason that GM made its car commitment is that the Department of Defense is actively involved in attempting to “green” themselves and has made a substantial commitment to take them. The military is taking an active interest in fuel cells and recently purchased two 300-kilowatt stationary fuel cell power plants.
The Chevy Equinox has a range of 300 miles on hydrogen and the latest fuel cell designs reduce weight by about 220 pounds. GM is focused on creating a “production-intent” design that it plans to have ready for manufacturing by 2015.