March 16, 2010

Hydrogen vehicles fuel curiosity

By ANN S. KIM Staff Writer

— By ANN S. KIM

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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Sunday., August 10, 2008. Engineer Kwontae Cho explains the workings of this Hyundai to Eddie Coyne of South Portland during a display of a group of hydrogen fueled cars at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth today.

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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Sunday., August 10, 2008. Bonnie and Alan Hawkes from Standish check out a BMW among a group of hydrogen fueled cars on display at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth today.

Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Eddie Coyne liked what he saw during a display of hydrogen-powered cars at Fort Williams Park on Sunday. But he was sorry to hear that one of the Hyundai models likely won't be available to consumers until 2015.

''We need to do something like this now. Not in 2015,'' said Coyne, an information technology specialist from South Portland. ''Obviously, the technology is here.''

The public exhibit of the vehicles took place on the eve of a coast-to-coast tour of hydrogen vehicles. The fleet hits the road today from Fort Allen Park on Portland's Eastern Promenade. The final destination is the Santa Monica Pier in California.

The tour is organized by the U.S. departments of energy and transportation, and local organizations -- the Hydrogen Energy Center and the Maine Clean Cities Program -- arranged the exhibit. Organizers hope the public exposure will lead to support of the technology, an alternative to petroleum fuels.

''The purpose of this event is to introduce the public so they can see these are real vehicles made by real manufacturers, not something rolled out of a garage on roller skates,'' said Gary Higginbottom, a member of the board of directors of the Hydrogen Energy Center.

The organization hopes to bring a hydrogen fueling station to Greater Portland within a couple of years.

Vehicles by Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Volkswagen, BMW and Hyundai were displayed on a grass field at the park. Visitors listened as company representatives described the vehicles and stopped by a table where the Hydrogen Energy Center's vice president, Paul Faulstich, explained the technology behind them.

The cars run on electricity generated by putting hydrogen through a fuel cell. The BMWs had the ability to switch back and forth between using gasoline and the hydrogen technology.

Some hydrogen vehicles are already available to consumers. A limited number of the Honda FCX Clarity are available for lease in southern California, where fueling stations are available. Hydrogen vehicles are also used in government and business functions.

They include five Hyundais used for base patrols by the U.S. Army in Michigan, a couple that the California Air Resources Board uses for driving between facilities, and nine by transit companies in California to patrol bus routes, according to Kwontae Cho, a fuel cell engineering manager for the car maker.

The hydrogen-powered Tucson that Coyne admired is a prototype that would now cost $1 million, Cho said. Eventually, he said, hydrogen vehicles should cost one-and-a-half times the price of their conventional counterparts. ''The biggest hurdle is infrastructure. The second is cost,'' he said.

Alan and Bonnie Hawkes of Standish particularly liked the looks and roominess of the BMW models on display. Alan Hawkes, a computer draftsman for a land surveying firm, said he has long been interested in alternative fuels and that its prospects may be better

''I think it's what's going to be coming.'' he said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

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