Arnold Pumps Up Hydrogen Plans

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made good on another campaign promise by signing an executive order that he hopes will help turn into a California a leader in utilization of environmentally friendly hydrogen-fueled cars in the years to come.

The new executive order was another step in the Schwarzenegger’s evolution as a champion of environmentally friendly vehicles, which began during last year’s recall campaign, which vaulted the larger-than-film-star into the political arena.

Before the recall campaign last year, Schwarzenegger had always been considered something of a car buff and even encouraged the development of a civilian version of the military HUMMER. But during the campaign, members of the Kennedy family encouraged him — Schwarzenegger is a Kennedy by dint of his marriage to Maria Shriver — to become more proactive on environmental issues.

Executive orders

Schwarzenegger signed the order creating a special public-private partnership during a special appearance at an experimental refueling station at the University of California at Davis, where he drove a hydrogen-powered sport-utility vehicle.

The order was designed to encourage development of the fuel cells that produce power through a chemical reaction with only water vapor as a byproduct, Schwarzenegger said. “I will sign an executive order creating a public-private partnership creating hydrogen highways all over the state of California by the year 2010,” he added.

“Hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations will be built. And these stations will be used by thousands of hydrogen-powered cars and trucks and buses. This starts a new era for clean California transportation.”

The consensus among experts both in the auto industry and outside the car business is that will be another decade before hydrogen cars become common. But Schwarzenegger’s supporters said the governor was help to push along the development of cars fueled by something other than petroleum.

Hydrogen is clean burning and leaves behind no residue of pollutants that could harm the environment. Automakers, particularly BMW, have experiment with running internal-combustion engine using hydrogen as fuel for several years. Onboard storage remains a critical issue, but several small companies have reported making advances in hydrogen storage. Energy Conversion Devices of Rochester Hills, Mich., for example, unveiled a system for storing hydrogen as solid rather than as gas on board a vehicle. Hydrogen also is the preferred feed stock for the fuels cells with which automakers are now experimenting.

Encouraging development

The State of California now has 22 hydrogen refueling stations and Schwarzenegger said he hoped there will soon be enough such stations across the state to encourage motorists to drive vehicles using hydrogen as fuel. A network of about 200 stations would probably be enough to encourage the use of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

“This is very important; we need signals from government,” said Daniel Sperling, the director of the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies. “This is a transition process, and it will be a slow transition process,” Sperling told reporters at the signing of the executive order.

The existence of the fueling stations also shows carmakers that the development of the hydrogen vehicles is being supported by the parallel development of the adequate fueling infrastructure.

Officials from the Schwarzenegger’s administration estimated that hydrogen stations cost about $500,000 and would be funded by private and federal funds, not state money.

Last year, President George W. Bush launched a five-year, $1.2 billion project to develop fuel-cell cars and the service stations that could support them. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, also has said he supports the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

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