Hydrogen Fuel Project in Hawaii

Hawaii’s race to adopt green-energy automobiles picked up speed yesterday with the announcement of a collaboration between The Gas Co. and General Motors Corp. for vehicles powered by hydrogen.

The companies agreed to work in concert, with The Gas Co. pledging to provide the fueling network for the cars, and GM saying it may send dozens of its hydrogen fuel-cell cars here.

“We’re not doing this to show what the technology can do,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s global fuel cell activities. GM hopes to start commercial production of hydrogen fuel cell cars in the next five years.

“We want to make it part of growth. We want it to be a beginning.”

The partnership was the latest in a series of Hawaii announcements this year related to the ramping up of vehicles using renewable sources of power.

Hawaii is becoming one of the leaders nationally in alternative fuel vehicles, with Nissan announcing that its much-anticipated electric car, the Leaf, will be sold here starting early next year and South Korean automaker CT&T saying it wants to build a $200 million electric-car assembly plant here.

Hawaii, as the most oil-dependent state in the nation, has announced an ambitious plan to wean itself off of petroleum-based energy, including electrical generation and transportation needs. About one-third of the petroleum consumed here goes to ground transportation, according to the state.

The Gas Co.-GM announcement marks the first significant hydrogen-fuel effort aimed at consumers in the state. GM said Hawaii presents an unusual situation for its hydrogen cars because a network of fueling stations can easily be developed.

There has been a chicken-and-egg dilemma to the advent of hydrogen-powered vehicles, because unlike electric cars that can be plugged in, a network of service stations where people can gas up with hydrogen is needed.

Drivers won’t buy the cars without the fueling stations available and fueling stations won’t be built without the cars being sold.

“The goal here is to provide an attractive place for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and other fuel cell technology,” said Jeffrey Kissel, Gas Co. president and chief executive officer.

GM is seeing the collaboration with The Gas Co. as the start of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure that could support tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles eventually.

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