- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s only hydrogen station opened yesterday for the first U.S. fleet of Ford shuttle buses powered by the alternative fuel, testing a technology that could lower greenhouse gases and eventually help wean the nation off foreign oil, Gov. Charlie Crist said.

“Today, gas prices are high — really high — and it hurts,” Mr. Crist said. “We need to make sure that our citizens in Florida and our country have the opportunity to have choice — whether it’s hydrogen or ethanol or whatever the fuel might be.”

Eight Ford Motor Co. shuttle buses will ferry customers, tourists and employees at Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center and other tourist spots throughout Central Florida, said Sharon Fields, transportation supervisor at the convention center.

Florida got its first hydrogen-powered bus from Ford two years ago, but it took since then to build the fueling station, officials said.

Florida already has four of the 12-passenger vehicles from Ford and will receive four more of the Ford E-450 buses later, said Sue Cischke, a Ford senior vice president. The state is paying $250,000 each for the $1 million-plus vehicles — the same cost as a traditional shuttle — under a deal with Ford.

The commercial shuttle buses can travel 150 to 200 miles before refueling, Miss Cischke said. One of the hydrogen-fueled buses releases about 1 percent of the carbon dioxide that is released by a Toyota Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid, she said.

The shuttles get five to 10 miles per gallon, the same as diesel-powered buses do, said Nick Twork, Ford technology spokesman.

The Chevron hydrogen station is one of the first in the Southeast and allows for an assessment of the commercial feasibility of hydrogen as a transportation fuel, Mr. Crist said. Progress Energy, which provides electrical power to millions of customers in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, donated the nearly 4 acres for the station site, Jeff Lyash, the energy company’s president said.

Chevron Corp. has five hydrogen-fueling centers nationwide, said Rick Zalesky, a Chevron vice president.

“We think the energy demand will increase by 40 percent over the next two decades,” he said. “And hydrogen is an exciting new technology that will help meet that demand.”

Power for the Ford E-450 shuttle buses is provided by an internal combustion engine that has been modified to run only on hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen combustion combines the gas with air to create a clean-burning energy — water is the only significant exhaust emission.

But hydrogen-powered vehicles won’t be crowding the highways for at least another decade or two. There are few hydrogen-fueling stations across the country, and it will take significant investment to build a nationwide network.

The Orlando station will be a hydrogen hub in Central Florida, Mr. Crist said. Another station will open in about two months in Oviedo and will fuel six Ford Focus cars to be driven by the state and Progress Energy.

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