Of the several factory-manufactured cars parked with their hoods up at the 2015 Earth Fair in Woodside on Saturday, March 28, electric motors powered all of them. "OK," a reader might say. "This is 2015. What else have you got?"
One car did not require a plug on a wire to recharge. The Mercedes Benz F-CELL, which is not available in the United States, runs on an electric motor, but derives its electricity from an on-board hydrogen fuel cell, a type of battery.
To refuel this car, the driver must stop at a service station that pumps hydrogen, park next to the pump, grab a hose with a nozzle on the end, and connect it to the car's fuel tank after opening a small door along the rear side of the car's body.
In short, the hydrogen powered car is ready for prime time. All that's needed is a network of hydrogen fueling stations and a customer base who own hydrogen-powered cars, neither of which exist at the moment.
It's a chicken-and-egg problem, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership is taking it on. "We determined that stations must come before vehicles, and the stations must be customer-friendly locations that are convenient to home and work," says the website. The 32 members in this partnership include vehicle manufacturers, hydrogen suppliers, fuel cell developers and government agencies such as the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board.
Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are expected to be selling hydrogen-powered cars in California in 2015, said Jennifer Hamilton of the fuel-cell partnership.
And by the fall, a small network of hydrogen pumping stations may be on the Peninsula, including in Woodside, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos, according to a state report. The Energy Commission, acting on legislation enacted in 2013, is engaged in establishing a hydrogen infrastructure in Berkeley, the Peninsula and parts of Los Angeles.
The owners of the Skylonda station will be spending around $2.8 million to remodel the site, with $2.1 million of that coming from Sacramento, according to Colin Armstrong, president of British Columbia-based Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corp. The company joined with property owner Kalaf Properties in bidding for a Skylonda facility after the Energy Commission decided that it wanted a station in Woodside.
At the Earth Fair, Ms. Hamilton talked with the Almanac from behind the wheel of the Mercedes F-CELL. "It's just like driving a (gasoline powered) car," she said. "What's different is knowing you're driving a zero-emissions car." That and the plethora of decals on the outside dropping hints to the observer that this vehicle's exhaust consists of water vapor.
The F-CELL has a range of about 240 miles and refuels in three to five minutes, according to a brochure. Ms. Hamilton said she has driven the car round-trip between Sacramento and the Bay Area. As with electrically powered vehicles in general, the car has regenerative braking, she said. In other words, the car can recharge the battery a bit when the vehicle is decelerating.
There are preconceived notions out there on the dangers of hydrogen as a fuel, and one of her jobs is informing the public about it, including emergency first responders. One key difference between hydrogen and gasoline is the behavior of the vapor. Both are flammable, but gasoline vapors are heavier than air and can settle around an accident site, whereas hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air, she said.
At the Earth Fair, Portola Valley and Woodside named their environmental champions for 2015.
Woodside's champion was Jason Mendelson, who organized the Earth Fair and was quite embarrassed to be so honored. "I do like to hear myself talk, but this is a little much," he said. "I guess they knew I'd be here so that'd be a plus for this thing."
Portola Valley Mayor Jeff Aalfs announced Adeline Jessup as that town's honoree. Ms. Jessup, an early member of the town's Architectural and Site Control Commission, is remarkable for her passion and stewardship and "a giant" upon whose shoulders today's volunteers stand, Mr. Aalfs said.