Hydrogen-powered vehicles are similar to electric cars. But unlike electric cars, which have large batteries, these cars have hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that turn the gas into electricity. The cars refuel and accelerate quickly, and they can go for several hundred miles on a full tank. They emit only water vapor, which makes them appealing to California cities that are trying to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“Almost any objective analysis for getting to zero emissions includes hydrogen,” said Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.
Mr. Brouwer does not think hydrogen will become the dominant energy source soon, but he argues that it has great potential as a fuel for vehicles, power plants and appliances. Hydrogen, he said, will complement the use of lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, wind turbines and natural gas.
U.C. Irvine has experimented with hydrogen for years and formed partnerships with local governments and major corporations to popularize its use in Southern California.
Just over a decade ago, Tim Brown worked on gasoline systems at General Motors. He went back to school in 2004, studied hydrogen with Mr. Brouwer and “became a believer.”
Five years after earning his doctorate in 2008, he founded First Element Fuel, which operates 21 hydrogen fueling stations, including a four-pump unit at an Arco gas station in Fountain Valley, about a 10-minute drive from U.C. Irvine. The company plans to build up to 80 stations across the state, under the brand name True Zero.
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