March 16, 2010

Hydrogen car show aims to fuel interest

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

Staff Writer

An unusual fleet of hydrogen-powered cars is coming to Maine next weekend for a public exhibit and the kickoff of a national tour.

At least 10 demonstration fuel-cell cars built by seven different car manufacturers will be on display Sunday at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. The cars will be in Portland the next day for the start of a coast-to-coast tour being organized by the U.S. departments of energy and transportation.

''I don't think this number of hydrogen manufacturers have had this number of vehicles together in one place, ever,'' said Gary Higginbottom of the Maine Hydrogen Energy Center. ''This is the first place it's going to happen.''

Hydrogen vehicles actually run on electricity that's generated when hydrogen is put through a fuel cell. Hydrogen, especially when made from water using solar or wind power, is considered a clean alternative to petroleum fuels.

The federal energy and transportation agencies, and private advocates such as the Maine center, hope the national tour of demonstration vehicles will fuel interest in the technology and lead to more political support and market incentives.

Honda is building the first commercially produced hydrogen cars. The cars will be leased in the Los Angeles area, where there is a network of fueling stations.

The Hydrogen Energy Center, a group of volunteer advocates, is hoping to use grants to develop Maine's first hydrogen fueling station somewhere in the Portland area within the next two years. It would be large enough to fuel a small fleet of local vehicles.

''What we really want to do is get a fleet of vehicles somewhere in Maine that would commit to hydrogen operation and would be fueled at one fueling source,'' Higginbottom said.

The Hydrogen Energy Center and the Maine Clean Cities Program are arranging the gathering of cars in Cape Elizabeth.

Cars built by BMW, Daimler, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen will be on display in the field near Portland Head Light from 2 to 5 p.m. Other car makers could be added.

The fleet will be in Portland on Aug. 11, to kick off the national tour ending on the Santa Monica Pier in California, according to local organizers.

Steve Linnell, coordinator of the Maine Clean Cities Program and a senior transportation planner with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said the rare collection of cars will be an opportunity to introduce the idea to Mainers and people across the country.

''The technology for actually getting them on the road for the average consumer is several years out.'' But, he said, ''Hydrogen is going to be one of the many options'' for replacing oil.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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