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Schwarzenegger promotes hydrogen fuel in L.A.

May 27, 2009 |  3:27 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who already owns a Hummer fueled with vegetable oil, today touted the latest “green” addition to his fleet: a hydrogen-powered Honda FCX Clarity.

“I just got the Clarity, which is a wonderful hydrogen vehicle,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at California’s first retail station to sell both gasoline and hydrogen, in West Los Angeles. “We’re all fighting over who is driving it. My daughters want to drive it all the time and take it away from me.”

Schwarzenegger dropped by the Shell station, which opened last summer, to lend his star power to the Hydrogen Road Tour, a rally designed to highlight advances in fuel-cell technology. Seven automakers are taking part in the nine-day, 1,700-mile trip from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada.

Members of the public can test drive 11 fuel-cell cars and SUVs at one of 28 stops along the way. Hydrogen vehicles generate no tailpipe emissions aside from water vapor.

“I’m actually cleaning the air as I drive. What could be better than that?” said Stephanie White, a state biologist who showed off her hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox to the governor at the stop in West L.A..

But not everyone is a fan of the technology. Critics say the fuel is difficult to store and can require more energy to produce than it provides once it's in the car.

Emissions can also be generated during the production of the fuel. The fuel cells are expensive – at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars per vehicle, according to Spencer Quong of the Union of Concerned Scientists -- because they contain precious metals such as platinum and palladium.

Infrastructure is another problem. There are just 26 hydrogen fueling stations in California, making commutes difficult.

Although Honda and General Motors have released a limited number of hydrogen-fueled cars to select Southern California households, they will provide them only to people who live within a few miles of several fueling stations in the Los Angeles area. Critics argue that building a viable network of fueling stations could cost billions.

The Obama administration has proposed to slash funding for research into hydrogen-fueled vehicles by $101 million to $68 million in 2010, arguing that the technology is not viable in the near term.

Patrick Serfass, a spokesman for the National Hydrogen Assn., a Washington-based group that includes General Motors Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Shell Hydrogen, took issue with that proposal at today’s event.

“There is no silver bullet,” he said. “Only with a variety of technologies are we going to be able to meet our environmental and technological challenges.”

Schwarzenegger said he wants California to be at the forefront of all energy-saving technologies, including fuel-cell and plug-in cars.

“We don’t want to choose the winners,” he said. “I think the market will decide.”

-- Alexandra Zavis

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