Image: Hawaii
Cliff1066, Flickr
updated 9/24/2010 12:16:03 PM ET 2010-09-24T16:16:03

The Hawaiian island of Oahu is far ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to ushering in a new era for climate-friendly transportation and energy infrastructure. The state’s gas company recently teamed up with General Motors to set up an island-wide hydrogen fuel system by 2015, complete with hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars and numerous fueling stations.

Hydrogen fuel is one of the more attractive energy alternatives to oil: it is abundant and it produces only water as waste, rather than carbon and other fossil fuels.

So why are we not using it already? As with any fuel alternative to oil, it requires infrastructure and huge piles of cash investments.

Hawaii, however, provides an ideal location to test out the technology at a low cost. Oahu is small and isolated, meaning cars would not end up driving out of state and into places lacking infrastructure.

More importantly, however, the island already has a steady supply of hydrogen. Hydrogen gas is produced as a byproduct of the state’s natural gas production industry and is already pumping through the 1,000-mile state utility pipeline.

According to an LA Times article, “Hawaii’s Gas Co. currently makes the hydrogen equivalent of 7,000 gasoline gallons per day ... [this] could power as many as 15,000 fuel-cell vehicles.” Doubling that production would require only minimal effort.

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The ready supply of hydrogen drops the production cost of each hydrogen fuel pumps from a couple million dollars down to $300,000-500,000.

The goal is set up several fueling stations along a densely populated 25-mile stretch of roads encompassing Honolulu. These stations extract hydrogen from the utility pipeline and then separate out hydrogen protons and electrons. In isolation the electrons create electricity.

GM already has 119 Chevy Equinox fuel cell cars driving around the U.S. as part of it’s Project Driveway consumer test-loan program, of which up to 50 are potentially going to Hawaii. The company hopes to make more fuel cell vehicles available to the market by 2015.

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