updated 2/21/2005 1:21:19 PM ET 2005-02-21T18:21:19

ChevronTexaco Corp. on Friday opened a hydrogen fueling station in Chino, Calif., the first of six pilot stations in a federal program to promote the study of the fuel's potential.

The Chino station will fuel three or more Hyundai Sport Utility Vehicles, designed specially for this test. The research project is part of a five-year Department of Energy cost-sharing program, designed to demonstrate safe, practical hydrogen technologies.

Further research into the possibilities for hydrogen will be an important component in developing alternative energy sources, said Donald Paul, vice president and chief technology officer of ChevronTexaco.

"We are entering what is genuinely a new phase in the hydrogen journey. And it is a journey. With lots of unknowns," Paul said.

The development of hydrogen has been very limited and highly focused on research and development elements, Paul said. However, now, with the help of the DOE, the focus is moving toward making pilot plants and starting small-scale test programs.

The efforts may eventually lead toward a point where automobile manufacturers decide they have enough growth to merit the wide-spread manufacture of hydrogen-fueled vehicles, Paul said.

Slideshow: Fuel cell specs Experts agree that the widespread development and implementation of hydrogen technology will likely be a long-term effort, and may be in excess of 25 years, according to Francis Shields, a consultant with Accenture.

Hydrogen proponents tout the gas's advantages: hydrogen fuel cells emit no pollutants or greenhouse gases, the gas can be produced from numerous sources, and manufacturing is relatively inexpensive.

"One of the really unique characteristics of hydrogen is that it can be made so many ways, from so many feedstocks," Paul said.

The Chino center will use natural gas as a feedstock, to use the extensive natural gas infrastructure that is already in place. "Natural gas is an established, very efficient way to make hydrogen," he said.

ChevronTexaco is based in San Ramon, Calif.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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