Kristie Cattafi , Staff Writer North Jersey.com
LODI ― The borough could become home to the first hydrogen fueling station in New Jersey and one of the few retail stations open to the public across the country.
Air Liquide US has filed an application with the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to install a hydrogen gas fueling dispenser, a hydrogen fueling storage facility and other improvements to an existing Shell gas station at 110 Essex St.
The move is a sign that automakers are placing a bet that hydrogen-powered cars are a solution to the industry’s unsustainable and environmentally harmful reliance on fossil fuels. Hydrogen-powered cars are electric vehicles, but rather than run on a plug-in electric battery, a fuel cell generates power by combining pressurized hydrogen with oxygen from the air. Water that trails out of the tailpipe is the only emission.
Toyota is collaborating with Air Liquide to expand hydrogen fueling stations to the East Coast to coincide with the introduction of its new hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai. There are plans to start construction 12 hydrogen fueling stations in the next year in New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Delaware, according to Jana Hartline, the environmental communications manager for Toyota North America.
If the application is approved, Lodi could become the site of the first hydrogen fueling station in New Jersey. (There is also a pending application to open one in Whippany.) The Zoning Board has yet to schedule a hearing on Air Liquide’s application. There are 33 hydrogen stations in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center. The vast majority ― 30 ― are in California, which has committed to investing $20 million annually to help develop 100 hydrogen refueling stations by 2020. There is one station each in Connecticut, South Carolina and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, there are 201 electric recharging stations and 453 charging outlets for battery-operated electric vehicles nationwide.
“A hydrogen fueling station looks very similar to a gas station,” Hartline said. “It’s very familiar. You pull up to a pump and fill up in about three to five minutes.”
Hydrogen sells for around $12 to $15 per kilogram, Hartline explained. The Mirai, with a suggested retail price of $57,500, holds five kilograms of hydrogen, and can travel up to 312 miles on a full tank. A fill-up could cost around $75, but Toyota is giving buyers a prepaid credit card that they can use to buy up to $15,000 in fuel over the first three years of ownership.
Toyota and other automakers are offering such subsidies to consumers and helping to finance the development of hydrogen filling stations, like the one proposed in Lodi, to address an issue that has held back the wider introduction of the technology. A wide network of refueling stations has yet to be developed because of a lack of hydrogen cars, and hydrogen cars have yet to enter widespread use because there isn’t a network of filling stations to sustain them.
Hydrogen fuel vehicles are “extremely clean” but most hydrogen is derived from the production of natural gas, minimizing its environmental benefits, said Chuck Feinberg, the chairman and president of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, which works with fuel providers and officials to reduce the use of petroleum products in transportation.
“Hydrogen is extremely abundant, but it’s not found in nature,” Feinberg said. “The trick is to find a cost effective and sustainable way of generating that hydrogen. When that happens, hydrogen makes all kinds of sense for vehicles and other uses.”
In many cases, it takes more energy to produce hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles than the car creates, Feinberg said. But he believes the zero-emission vehicles are still cleaner and more sustainable than those that run on diesel or gasoline.
“It’s still a great option, but it’s not nirvana yet,” he said. While, Feinberg believes it will be some time before hydrogen fuel is mass produced, he still believes fuel-cell cars represent a “cleaner” option overall than more conventional electric vehicles that require a charging station. “Overall, hydrogen will be cleaner than a plug-in electric car because the charging station is fueled by electricity that comes from power plants,” he said.
In the future, it will be a race to see which technology becomes more prevalent, Feinberg said, noting that a new generation of battery vehicles is being developed that can travel farther on a single charge.
“It’s hard to predict what technology will win,” he said. “But they’re all better than what we have now.”
Both types of zero-emission vehicles are exempt from New Jersey's sales tax.
Alan Adler, a General Motors spokesman, said that one of the major benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is that they save time. It takes about the same amount of time to refuel a hydrogen vehicle takes as it does to fill up a conventional car at a gas station. Battery electric vehicles, by contrast, take hours to recharge.
GM tested the Electrovan, the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle, in 1966. Since then, the automaker has invested more than $2.5 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology. "It's something that started out as a science project, but now we are edging closer and closer to mainstream use," Adler said.
In October, GM revealed its latest fuel cell prototype, the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, an off-road midsize pickup that the Army will test in extreme conditions on four bases in 2017. The vehicle is quiet, Adler said, and produces water that soldiers can collect to drink, if needed.
“We see broad potential for fuel cell systems in military, aerospace and other applications while we continue on the path to a commercial vehicle,” Charlie Freese, GM’s executive director for global fuel cell business, said in statement.