Electric vehicle technology may be the mainstream sustainable transportation choice for automakers, but there are other options. Hawaii is set to become a testing ground for hydrogen-powered vehicles as part of the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative, a GM and The Gas Company-led program designed to make hydrogen available to Oahu’s one million residents by 2015.
The initiative debuted last spring, but GM announced this week that 10 partners have joined the HHI, including the U.S. Department of Energy, FuelCell Energy, Aloha Petroleum Ltd, Louis Berger Group, and U.S. Pacific Command—everyone from the military to oil companies.
The Gas Company estimates that it can currently can produce enough hydrogen to power 10,000 fuel cell vehicles, and it has the capacity to expand. The company's hydrogen won't come from imported petroleum; instead it will make hydrogen from the synthetic natural gas production process, which will soon use plant oils and animal fats as feedstocks.
GM and TGC ultimately plan to place 20 to 25 hydrogen stations around the island. Whether GM can get enough hydrogen-powered vehicles on the island to justify that many stations has yet to be seen.
The initiative will at least test the viability of a hydrogen infrastructure. "In Hawaii, we want to address the proverbial chicken or egg dilemma," said Charles Freese, executive director of GM Fuel Cell Activities, in a statement. "There has always been a looming issue over how to ensure that the vehicles and the necessary hydrogen refueling infrastructure are delivered to market at the same time. Our efforts in Hawaii will help us meet that challenge."
If the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative is successful, it doesn't necessarily bode well for hydrogen-powered vehicles elsewhere. Electric vehicles and charging stations have much more momentum from car companies big and small—and momentum will ultimately decide which technology wins.