Hydrogen fueling station landing at SFO 

Years after it was expected to be completed, a hydrogen fueling station at SFO might finally sputter into existence.

Later this month, San Francisco International Airport is looking to secure the last of the funding needed for the $4.7 million fueling complex, which would be one of the few hydrogen fueling stations in Northern California for cars and buses.

The station is a partnership of the airport and two private companies, The Linde Group and Hythane, which will lease a vacant lot near Millbrae Avenue where they will be built.

Officials had originally hoped the station would open in late 2009, but the project was delayed because of a lack of funding for utilities work and protracted legal negotiations, senior airport planner Roger Hooson said.

Once the pricey project is completed — the aim is for early 2012 — the hydrogen fuel will not be cheap. Hydrogen costs the equivalent of $10 per gallon of gasoline, according to SFO officials. The fuel has also been criticized for lacking enough infrastructure to be a viable alternative to gasoline.

But airport officials say it will further their goal of cutting vehicle emissions.

“One of the cornerstones of our operation is to be good stewards of the environment,” airport spokesman Mike McCarron said.

Officials hope to begin building the station in the next few months. It will offer pure hydrogen for state-of-the-art fuel-cell vehicles, including cars and buses.

It will also provide a 20 percent hydrogen blend with compressed natural gas called Hythane, which burns 20 percent cleaner than natural gas and will be able to fuel most natural-gas hotel and rental car shuttles after a one-day conversion process.

“We’ve always wanted to have a variety of alternative fuels here,” Hooson said. “We didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.”

The push for the SFO project has continued despite hydrogen fuel not enjoying the same political support it had a few years ago. The Obama administration has signaled its interest in electric cars and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who launched the state’s “hydrogen highway” program, is now out of office.

“Hydrogen is not on the fast track that it was on,” said Rich Napier, the executive director of the City/County Association of Governments.

But Napier doesn’t think it’s too late.

“It’s helping build on [the airport’s] current infrastructure to make it cleaner, regardless of it no longer being the hot alternative fuel,” he said.

Footing the bill

A breakdown of the funding for the planned hydrogen fueling center at SFO:

$1.7 million: California Air Resources Board
$600,000: California Energy Commission
$500,000: San Francisco International Airport (for extending utilities to project site)
$200,000: City/County Association of Governments
$200,000: Bay Area Air Quality Management District
$700,000: Linde Group contribution
$800,000: Hythane contribution
$4.7 million: Approximate total

Does not include up to $1 million in funding from Bay Area Air Quality Management District for hythane-powered vehicles

Source: SFO

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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Shaun Bishop

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