In our society's quest for energy independence, its important to remember that no one solution is going solve our oil addiction problem. We consume A LOT of oil. People naturally have different driving habits and transportation needs. To truly reach a sustainable transportation system, we need to have zero emissions vehicles that can meet the driving demand of all drivers. This means zero tailpipe emissions today,and moving towards zero energy production emissions in the future. Check out this EIN video to learn more:
For a list of references for facts stated in the video, please click here.
For 45 years, the state of California has made remarkable progress towards improving air quality via the implementation of critical standards and regulations. California, the pioneer state for tailpipe emission standards, now faces another critical set of decisions later this fall that could significantly impact the health of its residents as well as the production of, and transition to, cleaner vehicles. CARB will be voting on important updates to the Clean Cars Program that aim to reduce toxic vehicle emissions, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the availability of infrastructure that properly supports clean, alternative fuel cars. As expected however, advocates for more stringent standards are not met without opposition – placing the California Air Resources Board in familiar territory: balancing health, environmental, and economic well-being.
Physicians and other health professionals are some of the major players in support of strengthening federal air quality regulations, particularly vehicle emissions, and continue to rally ever increasing numbers – with good reason. California can successfully claim all 10 of the nation’s smoggiest counties and thus, some of the worst air pollution in the country. The major cause? Over 30 million registered vehicles and the staggering amounts of traffic pollution that they produce. Support from the medical sector continues to call public attention to poor air quality and its direct relation to negative health impacts, both acute and chronic. These effects include respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and many others – with the most serious being lung cancer and premature death. The populations most susceptible to emission-related illnesses are children, the elderly and those with preexisting respiratory conditions. According to a study done in 2010 by the RAND Corporation, “unhealthy air days caused 33,000 Emergency Room visits and hospitalizations at a cost of almost $200 million dollars from 2005-2007”. According to “The Road to Clean Air” study conducted by the American Lung Association, California could potentially reduce all major air pollution-related health problems by as much as 70% – a change that proves both economically and socially beneficial. With the overall well-being of society in mind, health professionals as well as the American Lung Association continue to push for the protection and maintenance of strict air quality regulations. However, automotive manufacturers and their employees express concern to such firm standards, particularly the steep increases in Corporate Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) and increasingly stringent GHG emissions standards.
Though automakers’ express valid and genuine concerns, history has shown us that seemingly ‘impossible’ air quality standards have been instated and successfully practiced despite initial uncertainties. The state of California experienced that firsthand with, for example, the requirement of pollution-reducing catalytic converters in new cars and the adoption of the smog check program. The mistake is made in the assumption that it is an either/or decision. It is not a choice between the health of the public and economic prosperity, but rather how soon we hope and want to see changes for the better. Now having reached an agreement, a collective effort can be made on all parts. As demonstrated in the past but not without its challenges, meeting these new regulations still remains an accomplishable goal. Through this progress, physicians and other supporters can hope to see the clear skies and improved air quality they’ve been working toward.
At the end of June, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) hosted a Hydrogen and Fuel Showcase to educate board members on the incredible progress hydrogen and fuel cell technology has made under the Zero Emissions Vehicle program. Check out Remy Garderet (EIN’s Policy Director) at the event in this video clip:
His points are well put; CARB’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program helped drive substantial investment into fuel-cell-electric-vehicles (FCEVs), as well as battery-electric-vehicles (BEVs). As a result, consumer ready, zero-emissions products are ready to be launched. Without strong government policy, much of this progress simply would not have been made.
We need continued strong policy signals to ensure the successful deployment of these technologies and the infrastructure needed to support them. EIN is working hard to ensure that by 2025, 1 in 5 vehicles on car lots will be able to run on hydrogen or electricity. Because of these recently showcased technology advancements, this vision is attainable. We can now realistically hope that your next vehicle will be powered by hydrogen, electricity, or both.
After nearly 10 years as EIN’s Executive Director, Daniel Emmett has transitioned from this role and into an advisory position as EIN’s Board President. With this change, EIN is very pleased to announce Tyson Eckerle as EIN’s new Executive Director. EIN’s Board is extremely excited at the prospect of him leading the organization. Through this transition, Tyson will not be alone in leading EIN’s efforts. Remy Garderet will continue to serve as EIN’s Policy Director, and Daniel will remain accessible to the EIN team to offer strategy and policy advice, and grow support for the organization. Although Daniel’s presence in day-to-day operations will be greatly missed, EIN staff remains strongly committed to the critical work of the organization and will continue to be dedicated in working towards energy independence, cleaner air, and a sustainable future.
In addition to the staffing changes, EIN has returned to its roots at its old offices on Bond Ave in Santa Barbara, California. The formal mailing address can be found on the Contact Us section of the EIN website.
As the early market for Hydrogen Infrastructure continues to develop, EIN staff took a roadtrip to witness some key milestones in the transition away from our dependence on oil.
Our first stop took us to Torrance, California, for May 10th grand opening of the world’s first pipeline fed hydrogen-fueling station. The station was developed in a partnership between Toyota, Air Products, Shell, South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Department of Energy. Approximately 50 representatives from key stakeholder groups attended the grand opening, including individuals from fuel providers, station operators, environmental NGOs, vehicle manufacturers, media, and government. The facility has a fueling capacity of approximately 50 kilograms per day; enough fuel to fully support over 80 cars based on UCI’s National Fuel Cell Research Center data on average fuel use.
Lined up and waiting to be the first vehicles to fill at each one of the four hydrogen pumps were vehicles from major automakers GM, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, and Toyota. With a single hydrogen fill-up, these vehicles can travel as far as conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles (250-400 miles depending on the model), and can refill with hydrogen in as little as 3 minutes, offering petroleum free driving without sacrificing range or time.
The station was built on Toyota’s corporate head quarters with a lease from Shell, which operates and owns the station in conjunction with Air Products, the supplier. The Air Products hydrogen pipeline feeds into Torrance from the company’s Wilmington and Carson, California centralized production facilities. And while the hydrogen produced at these centralized production facilities is made by the steam methane reformation (SMR) of natural gas, a fossil fuel, the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions on a well-to-wheels basis are still substantial, around 55% compared to a conventional vehicle.
While producing hydrogen from natural gas in the early market is the most economical pathway, it is a bridge technology to the ultimate goal of renewable hydrogen production. Our second stop took us to a station designed to do just that, create 100-percent renewable hydrogen. The Orange County Sanitation District’s Wastewater Treatment Facility in Fountain Valley uses biogas collected from the water treatment process to create hydrogen.
At this facility, anaerobic digesters process waste sewage from orange county to produce biogas, which, after clean-up, has the same chemical characteristics as natural gas. This biogas is run through a stationary molten carbonate fuel cell creating hydrogen, electricity, and heat. Remarkably, the fuel cell can be adjusted to produce mostly hydrogen or all electricity, depending on demand. The hydrogen is pumped to a publicly accessible on-site hydrogen refueling station for the fill-up of fuel cell vehicles.
The Figure below shows the technological processes used at the sanitation district to produce hydrogen and electricity from wastewater sludge:
The process emits virtually zero toxic emissions or particulate matter, and eliminates a majority of the GHG associated with producing the hydrogen or electricity. According to Air Products, the facility can produce up to 100kg of renewable hydrogen per day, enough fuel to fully support over 160 cars, while simultaneously producing up to 300kW of power with upwards of 60% efficiency (typical natural gas turbines are less than 40%). When the station opens in July, it will mark an important milestone in the transition of light duty vehicle fuel production. Renewable hydrogen production will be a key component of California’s ability to meet its GHG reduction goals of the transportation sector.
While these hydrogen production and fuel cell vehicle technologies exist today, they are still in large part in early market demonstrations. Unfortunately, in order for EIN staff to return to the lovely confines of our office we stopped at none other than a gasoline station on our trip home, where we paid $4.29 per gallon. To move beyond petroleum, we need a collaborative effort between industry groups, automakers, environmental NGOs, and government to ensure that these potential revolutionary technologies maintain their momentum all the way to the mainstream consumer.
Barriers to mass adoption still exist, the largest of which is probably the need for a coordinated effort between fuel providers, automakers and the government to avoid a chicken-or-egg dilemma, but this is not to say that barriers such as this cannot, will not, or should not be overcome. We have done it before, when the automobile overtook the horse as a primary mode of transportation, and can do it again.
Just as the automobile offered an exciting change to consumers over 100 years ago, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), provide something brand new, yet this time, familiar. It is difficult to describe the sensational feeling you get from seeing the technology demonstrated by any one of the number of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles first hand. Unless you have had the opportunity to ride in or drive any one of these remarkable vehicles, it is hard to fathom the driving performance, look, sound, and feel of them. And it is even more amazing to realize that the technology exists today, to transition our society completely away from dependence on oil. We continually hear that it will take miracles for this to occur; it won’t take miracles, just perseverance. With the opening of the pipeline fed station in Torrance, and the coming opening of the biogas fed station in Fountain Valley, we are one step closer to capitalizing on the potential that hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles offer.
Here are some other photos from the Torrance Hydrogen Station Grand Opening:
James hopped out of the Clarity and gave us a quick run down of the technical specifications:
• Zero tail pipe emissions
• Rapid acceleration
• 5 minute hydrogen refill at a local shell station
• Greater than 260 mile range
• Equivalent of 65 miles per gallon
• Hydrogen produced through electrolysis by 100% green energy
James leased the car from Honda on a 3-year lease for $600 per month, which includes the cost of all maintenance, insurance, and fuel. Drivers of the Clarity (and other FCEVs) are also eligible for a State incentive rebate up to $2,500.
The four of us hopped in the vehicle, which was similar in size to a mid-size sedan like the Honda Accord. The inside of the vehicle was spacious and sleek with a futuristic front panel similar to that of the Toyota Prius. We took off from the street side parking and accelerated into the hustle and bustle of Olympic blvd in a rapid but smooth movement. We then proceeded to loop about the busy streets of Santa Monica and eventually stopped by the offices of EIN Board Member Terry Tamminen, a fellow Honda Clarity FCEV driver.
On our way out James realized that we were running low on fuel, so we decided to accompany him to the local Shell station to witness the fill-up. We pulled into the Shell station on Santa Monica Boulevard, and up to the stall labeled with a blue Hydrogen side panel.
James entered his personalized pin code (provided by Honda) onto the pump’s screen and detached the nozzle from the pump.
He opened the latch on the Clarity, which was placed in the same location as a typical car. He then inserted the nozzle, twisted it, and clamped it down easily with the locking mechanism attached to the nozzle.
The pressurized Hydrogen began to flow into the vehicle. We then had just enough time to snap some pics of the station, the pump, and the vehicle before the tank reached its 4 Kg capacity.
Then, James unlocked the nozzle and inserted it back into the pump before we climbed back in the Clarity and were off to our next destination.
The whole process felt rather familiar, yet new, exciting, and clean.
The recent oil price spike being felt at the pump makes HR910, Congressman Fred Upton’s (R-Mi) bill being worked through the House, incredibly scary. In short, the bill would end the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and California’s ability to improve air quality by setting strong tailpipe standards. Why does this matter? Reducing GHG emissions has the ancillary benefit of reducing petroleum consumption, the exact move our economy needs to reduce the impact of inevitable future oil price shocks.
The 2012 – 2016 federal fuel economy and GHG emissions standards, developed in partnership between the EPA, NHTSA, and CARB, illustrate the benefit of smart emissions policy. The EPA estimates that the standards will save our economy $240 Billion, at a cost of $52 Billion, while providing the emissions reduction equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road for one year. HR910 would seriously undermine our government’s ability to set similar policies in the future.
Instead of setting our economy on course toward energy independence, HR910 follows the “Drill anywhere and everywhere” logic championed by vocal a subgroup of politicians, who argue the need to open “any and every” natural resource to satisfy our insatiable thirst for oil. Even President Obama is prepared to encourage new drilling in the face of rising gas prices. However, while the opening of oil drilling in off and onshore domestic regions might modestly lessen our immediate foreign dependence on oil, it is not a sustainable long-term energy policy. As the President announced his support for safely developing existing, unused oil leases, he reminded us of a critical fact: expanding drilling is not a sustainable long-term energy policy option given that our nation consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil but controls only two percent of the world’s reserves.
The key to alleviating our susceptibility to oil price shocks lies in strong policies focused on reducing our oil dependence, creating market certainty for new renewable energy and clean tech sectors, and accounting for the true cost of oil production and consumption by putting a price on its externalities. HR 910 would do the opposite, and as anyone who has filled up recently can attest, that is bad policy.
EIN recently spoke out against H.R. 1, the House of Representative’s February 19th, 2011 continuing resolution bill which proposes to gut our federal government’s ability to protect our environment and shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. The event, organized by Environment California, brought together Californian voices to stand against this assault on our long term environmental well being.
Last entry, we talked about policies necessary to increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet and how to create environments for automakers to excel in providing increasingly efficient vehicles. This week, at least of a couple of articles point out another smart policy: raising our gas tax. Here’s the deal: the U.S. pays less for gas than any other country in the rich world. Substantially less:
If we enjoy low prices, why should we raise the gas tax? If you have filled up in the past couple of weeks, your higher bill is one key clue. Thomas Friedman and the above Economist article point out that a strong gas tax it could be used to buffer our economy from future oil price shocks, buying ourselves some certainty in energy costs. When oil supply is choked, the gas tax could be reduced so that the economy does not miss a beat. Instead, with little to no buffer, we will continue to feel the pain of Middle East tensions and unrest every time we fill up.
Certainty is something we can plan around. If gas prices are going to be high, fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles will become more popular. So will mass transit. With good planning, higher gas prices can actually mean more money in our pockets. Higher, predictable costs lead to investments into higher efficiency, which can offset additional costs.
Let’s take control of our economy by taxing gas as it should be taxed. Not only would it set us on the path to becoming more efficient with our energy use, it could plug a huge hole in our federal and state budgets, and reduce the federal deficit, leaving us all better off.