Research into hydrogen well worth the price

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Earlier this month, a spit-polished hydrogen-powered shuttle bus was introduced in Orlando. Eight of them are being developed for use in 2006 in one of the most traffic-intensive areas of the state. What was a twinkle in the eye of automakers just a few years ago is now a reality, albeit a small-fleeted reality.

Hydrogen is the holy grail of pollutant-free transportation. The only emission is vapor — such clean droplets that you could drink the exhaust.

Ford Motor Co. is bringing these 12-passenger vans to Orlando for use in shuttling tourists around.

Additionally, five hydrogen-charged electric cars will be used by rangers at Wekiwa Springs State Park, where 185,000 visitors come through each year.

They are part of a program called "H2 Florida," which Gov. Jeb Bush inaugurated in 2003. The state is partnering with industry and university researchers to get hydrogen vehicles off the test tracks and into real-world demonstration projects. And they're piggybacking on President Bush's investment of $1.5 billion into hydrogen power.

Jeb Bush is proposing $15 million for the state's portion of the partnership, promising that it will create jobs and get Florida in on the ground floor of a high-tech category that's in its infancy.

This sounds like a good thing. After all, car pollution is something no one enjoys. Florida is home to 20 million gas-powered automobiles, each of which spits out 650 pounds of carbon monoxide, 105 pounds of hydrocarbons and 50 pounds of nitrogen oxides, according to the state.

In Orlando, drivers spend an average of 66 hours per year held up in traffic, their cars spewing pollutants while they idle in long backed-up lines of cars and buses.

Some of that is due to the 40 million visitors Orlando receives every year, most of whom could be shuttled around on pollution-free buses in the future.

Hydrogen vehicles purr along and leave no trace. What's not to like? It makes a lot more sense than, say, (a recent) misguided proposed venture into light rail.

So far, we're just hearing the glowing side of hydrogen power from its promoters. It's far too early to give them an unequivocal endorsement. We'll be interested to watch these buses for a few months to see where the technology is heading and if it merits the effort.

— The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)

Jan. 31

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