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Fuel of the Future Arrives Today

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Location: Des Plaines, IL


Fuel of the Future Arrives Today

In eight to 10 years, you just might have a new choice when buying a car — one that uses regular gasoline or one that uses hydrogen fuel.

And you'll have at least one hydrogen fueling station at hand — in Des Plaines.

The state's first publicly accessible hydrogen fueling station is expected to open today at the Gas Technology Institute, 1700 S. Mount Prospect Road in Des Plaines. Several researchers and dignitaries, including Congressman Peter J. Roskam, an Illinois Republican, will unveil the station and fill up a GM prototype vehicle.

And the price? A deal at $3.49 per kilogram — the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. Hydrogen is supposed to burn cleaner and more efficiently and lessen our dependence on foreign oil, said Tony Lindsay, the gas institute's research and development manager.

"A fuel-cell vehicle is more energy efficient than a gasoline internal combustion engine-driven vehicle. For example, the GM HydroGen3 vehicle that will be fueled (today) at our event gets 60 miles per kilogram," said Lindsay.

A Think Technologies worker shows a trunk-mounted hydrogen-fuel tank developed several years ago with the Ford Motor Co. at the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento. General Motors provides a car that will fill up today at Illinois' first hydrogen fuel station in Des Plaines. (Associated Press)

Hydrogen-fueled cars and trucks have been under development by nearly every auto manufacturer in recent years. Researchers at the Gas Technology Institute and Argonne National Laboratory said they're getting closer to commercializing those vehicles.

Some say those vehicles could be available for sale as early as 2009 or at least within the decade, depending on research findings and how many more fueling stations open. There are a few dozen fueling stations nationwide, most in California, Michigan and Washington, D.C.

The Des Plaines station has been under construction for more than a year. Two test vehicles for the city of Chicago and some prototypes are expected to use the station initially, said Lindsay.

The city of Chicago and the Rockford Airport are expected to build their own hydrogen fueling stations in the next couple of years, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for Roskam.

"We hope that the work that the Gas Technology Institute has invested in this station will lead to hydrogen vehicles becoming more mainstream," Goodwin said.

When a driver does stop at the Des Plaines hydrogen fueling station, he likely will see a fueling island similar to a regular gasoline station. The differences start with the shape of the nozzle, which has a special hooking mechanism to lock onto the car's fuel tank to ensure the high pressure delivery of the hydrogen is secure, said Lindsay.

The gas tank and fuel system in the vehicle also will be under pressure and will be housed in a reinforced metal housing to protect against collision damage and combustion.

Argonne scientists are excited about the commercially available hydrogen fuel pump in Des Plaines even though the center provides for its own fueling needs, said Don Hillebrand, director of its Center for Transportation Research.

"There aren't any big technological advances needed now," Hillebrand said. "All we need now is good engineering."

Argonne will start a three-year study on Wednesday that looks at the long-term effects of hydrogen on a vehicle's engine and fuel system.

"Customers need to feel comfortable buying and using them," Hillebrand said.


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