Hawaii Makes Fuel Cells a Key Part of Clean Energy Strategy

Cars, Policy, Toyota Mirai  /   /  By Bradley Berman

The fuel-cell and hydrogen industry has been grown by about 30 percent a year since 2010, according to “State of the States: Fuel Cells in America 2016,” a report published in November by the US Department of Energy. While it’s not surprising that California has the most robust commercial activity related to fuel cells—with New York and Connecticut not far behind—the report also names Hawaii as a leading state for fuel-cell projects.

“As the most oil dependent state in the nation, Hawaii spends roughly $5 billion a year on foreign oil to meet its energy needs,” said David Ige, Hawaii’s governor. “Making the transition to renewable, indigenous resources for power generation will allow us to keep more of that money at home, thereby improving our economy, environment and energy security.” In fact, Hawaii set a goal of using 100-percent clean energy by 2045. Using hydrogen to power zero-emission vehicles—and to generate electricity for stationary use on its grid—are a critical part of Hawaii’s long-term clean energy strategy.

In January 2016, Hawaii became the second state to receive the Mirai hydrogen-powered sedan—just three months after California. “Fuel-cell vehicles like the Mirai truly represent the future,” said Rick Ching, president of Servco Automotive, a large local dealership group. “The Mirai is the ultimate clean car. It emits nothing but water, and the fuel can be produced locally using renewable energy.” Local production is the key for an island state that has to import fossil fuels.

Servco is expected to commission the Hawaii’s first public hydrogen station in January 2017. There are already a number of non-commercial and military hydrogen stations providing fuel, including a 700-bar fast-fill station at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) on O’ahu. That facility was launched in June 2015 by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI). “We are excited that the MCBH hydrogen station is servicing Fast Fills by drivers without an attendant, a first in Hawaii,” said Richard Rocheleau, director at HNEI. The higher-pressure 700-bar standard is viewed as the key to longer-range hydrogen-powered cars like the Mirai, which can travel about 312 miles on a single tank.

The list of Hawaii’s other hydrogen projects includes: a waste-to-energy generating system that converts 10 tons of waste daily into electricity at the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies; the Maritime Fuel Cell Generator Project led by DOE’s Sandia National Laboratory; and a hydrogen energy storage system supported by a renewable micro-grid on the Big Island.

Hawaii is moving from technical demonstration projects to wider use of hydrogen fuel—as it marches one step at a time to 100-percent renewable energy less than three decades from now. The state plans to launch a fleet of eight fuel-cell shuttle buses at Honolulu International Airport by 2018. The design of the refueling infrastructure for the airport shuttle bus was supported by $1.15 million in bonds authorized by the State Legislature in 2016.

In addition, a technical demonstration project jointly conducted by the US departments of energy and defense will demonstrate the use of an electrolyzer—a device that can use solar or wind energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. In the demo project, hydrogen will be produced simultaneously for use by vehicles and the grid. The fuel will supply the Big Island’s three future fuel-cell shuttle buses. One of those buses will be operated by the County of Hawaii Mass Transit Agency and the other two at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which will also be the home of a future hydrogen-fueling station.

According to the report, which was written by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, Hawaii has “embraced bold solutions that will help develop a competitive (hydrogen) industry, making it one of the leaders in the clean energy race.”

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