WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California officials yesterday opened the newest stop in their network of hydrogen fueling stations and another chapter in the state's long-running pursuit of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

The hydrogen station in West Sacramento, just across the Sacramento River from the state Capitol, is aimed at enabling the public to buy hydrogen-fueled cars, which policymakers say are essential to meeting lofty state emissions goals.

Auto emissions constitute 40 percent of the Golden State's greenhouse gas emissions, so replacing conventionally fueled vehicles with low- or zero-emission versions is a key part of the state's plan to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below that by 2050.

"Today is really about a signal, a very strong one, about consumer confidence," said Phil Serna, a member of the state's Air Resources Board, which is in charge of getting the state to its emissions targets.

The station's opening coincided with the release of the Toyota Mirai, the automaker's first commercial fuel-cell vehicle, which will go on sale next week in Japan and at the end of next summer in California and the Northeast. The car was in high demand for test drives yesterday at the station, as were models of Honda's FCX Clarity, Mercedes' F-Cell and Hyundai's Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle.

Drivers will likely have to take a slight detour to reach the station, which is in an industrial section of West Sacramento, next to a cement factory that is currently being demolished.

The city just opened a bridge last week that connects the station's road to more residential and commercial areas. "This is all going to be vibrant and residential," said West Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Mark Johannessen.

The station was originally planned at a Shell station 2.5 miles away in a much busier section of town, but building codes required setbacks too wide to fit the hydrogen infrastructure within the station.

"Codes need to adjust to meet the growing market expectations," said Michael Beckman, head of hydrogen fueling and industrial applications for Linde North America, the gas supplier that built the fueling station. "Fitting stations into current retail settings is not necessarily a safety issue; it's more of a code issue."

Lofty goals and long-term funding
Hydrogen stations in California have had a choppy rollout. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) first created the "hydrogen highway" concept in 2004 by executive order and budgeted $15 million for hydrogen demonstration projects, stations and buses through 2008.

Schwarzenegger increased spending in 2007, signing A.B. 118, which provided roughly $90 million for hydrogen through this year. A bill that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed last year, A.B. 8, reformed the funding process, allocating $20 million per year through 2023 or until 100 stations are built.

Brown also set a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2025. He envisioned up to 19 stations installed by the end of 2013, 68 by the end of 2015 and 100 ultimately.

But the state still has only 10 stations publicly available. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has cited the lack of infrastructure as a reason that the company has not rushed a fuel-cell vehicle to market.

Nissan had a 2005 model of its fuel-cell SUV, the X-Trail FCV, available for drives yesterday but has no plans to produce it commercially, said Nissan senior engineer Brian Johnston. "We're going to continue to focus on battery-electric," he said.

The West Sacramento station cost $2.5 million, $1.5 million of which came from Energy Commission grants. It charges $13.59 per kilogram of hydrogen, including tax, which makes a fill-up about 30 percent more expensive than premium gasoline, Beckman said. As sales grow, economies of scale should make hydrogen competitive with premium gasoline, he said. The California Energy Commission has projected 20,000 hydrogen cars in the state by 2020.

The station is the first in Northern California to use California's new standards for measuring hydrogen, which is particularly tricky to meter due to high service pressure. The standards, approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture in June, relax the typical fuel accuracy standards to reflect the current state of metering technology for hydrogen.

An Energy Department-funded study released Tuesday by Sandia National Laboratories is also seeking to lower the cost of hydrogen fuel. The study found that storing hydrogen in underground caverns is three to five times cheaper than storing it in aboveground tanks. It envisions hydrogen being stored in geologic sites, then piped to cities during the summer, when transportation fuel is most in demand.

At the hydrogen station, Fred Joseck, of DOE's Fuel Cell Technologies Office, expressed confidence in California's efforts. "Hydrogen fuel cell is an important part of the president's all-of-the-above energy plan and Climate Action Plan," he said. "California's ahead of the curve."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500