Gassing Up Gas-Free [Slide Show]

A look at the infrastructure necessary to make hydrogen hybrid automobiles a reality

Courtesy of Eliot Caroom

With the price of oil cresting over $130 per barrel, the timing of Chevrolet's "Project Driveway" field market research could not be better. The program is an opportunity for consumers in California, New York State and the District of Columbia to test about 100 of the company's Equinox sports utility vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. In addition to letting drivers take a spin, the project is also a trial for prototype hydrogen stations.

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The test hydrogen fuel cell–powered cars have a range of up to 200 miles (322 kilometers) per tank. As part of Chevy's program, east coast test drivers can refuel at two stations in Westchester County (just north of New York City), while a third is being built near John F. Kennedy International Airport.

About a dozen test drivers fill up their fuel cell cars each week at the Shell hydrogen-refueling station in White Plains, N.Y. The station makes hydrogen fuel using city water and electricity from the local grid and also buys electricity generated by the Niagara Falls hydropower complex some 380 miles (610 kilometers) to the northwest.

Niagara's falling water "produces energy to compress the fuel into the vehicle so it has a full tank," says Brad Beauchamp, a customer--or in this case "driver"--relationship manager for GM's Project Driveway. "What you've got from the time you actually produce the fuel to the time you consume the fuel is a well-to-wheels carbon-free and petroleum-free transaction."

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