Schwarzenegger Opens first Retail Hydrogen Station

From his goals for a Million Solar Homes Initiative to his hydrogen highways plan, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is clearly smitten with visions of a vastly different future for energy in California.

Most recently, he helped kick off the dedication ceremony for the state’s first retail-designed hydrogen demonstration refueling station. The BP-branded site at the Los Angeles International Airport has been designed to run like a public retail site in order to enhance the company’s understanding of how it might develop solutions to supply hydrogen to existing retail stations in the future. The station was developed in partnership with Praxair, South Coast Air Quality Management District and Los Angeles World Airport and will provide hydrogen for five DaimlerChrysler fuel cell cars. “The opening of this hydrogen demonstration site is an important step to meeting the future energy needs of California,” said Ross Pillari, who is the president of BP America. “It is also an important milestone for us in BP and for the US. It, along with other development projects, will bring the day when hydrogen can be made widely available to customers a step closer. That day is likely to be very far away, however, as a hydrogen based economy poses many challenges. While President George W. Bush and other politicians have promoted hydrogen as a zero-emission energy source, it simply isn’t. The hydrogen needs to be created somehow, and that somehow is currently and predominantly through fossil fuels. The Schwarzenegger administration and BP are not trying to hide that fact, however. Along with the Press Release of the dedication event came the statement “there are a range of pathways to producing, delivering and storing hydrogen. It can be produced from natural gas either centrally at a refinery or on site; or manufactured on site using electrolysis. It can be delivered, stored and dispensed in gaseous form or as a liquid.” Carol Battershell, BP’s Director of Alternative Fuels acknowledged the distant prospects for hydrogen, but finds value in pursuing research as an on-going manner. “Today’s celebration reflects our belief in the potential hydrogen offers for wide-scale emission-free transport,” Battershell said. “And while the day when that may be possible is still some time away, projects such as this demonstrate what we can do today to provide the fuels of tomorrow.” The Press Release went on to say “one of the biggest challenges is to produce hydrogen from water using electricity provided from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. This would make hydrogen a wholly sustainable fuel.” The bulk of that particular challenge is the overall cost of the process because of the relative inefficiency of the various energy transfer processes versus simply deploying renewable energy projects straight into the electrical grid. Many renewable energy proponents have been wary to throw their support behind hydrogen because they are concerned that support for hydrogen could affect funding for other renewable energies. Alas, for the time being, hydrogen has its hold on researchers, companies and politicians alike. BP, which markets its traditional fuels in California under the ARCO brand, is also working in partnership with the US Department of Energy, DaimlerChrysler and Ford to develop further hydrogen refueling stations in several US states. Elsewhere in the world, the company is a participant in a pan-European nine-city fuel cell bus project and has signed an agreement with the Chinese Government to develop hydrogen demonstration fueling facilities to support fuel cell buses in Beijing, in time for the 2008 Olympic Games. The Los Angeles Airport project brings BP’s worldwide involvement in hydrogen sites to 12. Earlier this week, the company unveiled the first hydrogen refueling facility to be built under the DOE’s fuel cell and infrastructure validation program, at the DTE Energy Hydrogen Technology Park in Detroit.