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Stalling on the Hydrogen Highway

It was in March, four years ago, when California Governor ArnoldSchwarzenegger announced his state would build a Hydrogen Highway: Anetwork of hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations.


It was in March, four years ago, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his state would build a Hydrogen Highway: A network of hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations.

Weeks later, Canada jumped on the highway idea with the federal and British Columbia governments saying they would build stations from Victoria to Whistler in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

So what’s happened in the interim?

In California, not one station has been built under the state program. A recent article in SiliconVally.com said it’s due to a combination of not many people driving hydrogen-fuelled cars and too many strings attached to the state program. A few stations have been built using money from a U.S. federal program. Mary Nichols, head of California’s Air Resources program, says they still hope to build 50 to 100 stations, but it won’t happen til 2015 — not 2010, as originally planned.

Often touted as the fuel of the future, hydrogen is making slow progress.

In a recent interview with TECH NOW, representatives of the Canadian Hydrogen industry said they were in Ottawa to lobby politicians to approve a national policy assisting the hydrogen industry. The policy has industry backing and it has been approved at public hearings; all that’s left is cabinet approval.

I asked federal Environment Minister John Baird if he was pushing his cabinet colleagues to act, and he said it’s up to the Transport Ministry. I asked the transport ministry and was told that John Baird is the lead minister on this issue … And there it sits.

Alison Setton, manager of B.C.’s Hydrogen Highway project, says that in about two weeks they’ll issue a new business plan. She tells me that it will say they’re on track to have the world’s largest hydrogen fuelling station up and running in Whistler by 2009. It will be used to fuel provincial transit buses. It’s the transit and industrial applications like delivery fleets and forklifts where Canadian companies are seeing sales, since the auto market remains flat.

How flat? Well, the U.S. National Hydrogen Power Association says that at the end of March 2008, there were just 122 hydrogen-fueling stations in all of Canada and the U.S., including one in Ottawa. Most are part of research facilities.


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