IMAGE: HYDROGEN PUMP AT GAS STATION
Shell Hydrogen
This Shell gas station in Washington, D.C., is the first in North America to include a hydrogen pump, seen here next to a General Motors fuel cell vehicle.
updated 11/11/2004 9:36:34 AM ET 2004-11-11T14:36:34

About four miles east of the U.S. Capitol, in an industrial section of town, sits a gas station that looks like any other. But it’s not, because on Wednesday it became the first in North America to have a hydrogen dispensing pump.

Shell executives, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony  Williams unveiled the technology, which the Bush administration hopes will help reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

“This will be, in fact, the first step toward the real transition in the economy from the carbon-based economies of the past to a hydrogen economy of the future,” Abraham said at the station in Northeast Washington.

Longer term goals
The pump only services six minivans that General Motors Corp. uses to demonstrate the technology to government officials. But with 80,000 vehicles passing by every weekday, Shell officials hope it’ll get a lot of attention — and, eventually, a lot of use.

GM hopes to sell affordable hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010, and Shell envisions building on the number of stations and having mass-market penetration between 2015 and 2025.

The minivans are equipped with fuel cell stacks that turn hydrogen into electricity to power the vehicle. The only emission is water vapor.

Neighbors concerned
Not everyone supports the refueling station. More than two dozen neighborhood residents with safety concerns protested the opening. Organizers said they don’t want the station located 50 yards from an elementary school.

Slideshow: Fuel cell specs “We have issues of how they would bring a truck into the neighborhood to fuel up the hydrogen tank,” said Rev. Heath Cheek. Others complained there was little notification about the station.

“We probably went to the community later than we should have to talk to them about the project,” admitted George Smalley, a Shell Hydrogen spokesman.

Smalley said the chances of an explosion were “very, very remote.” Hydrogen deliveries will happen at night or on weekends, separately from gas deliveries, Smalley said. The underground storage tank has 24-hour electronic monitoring and the pump requires a security code to use. Local firefighters have also been trained on how to handle incidents with hydrogen.

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