Connecticut is poised to become the first state in the Northeast — and the second in the U.S. — to sell hydrogen fuel cell powered cars — considered by many to be the most Green vehicle available.
Joel Rinebold, chairman of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, said Toyota is gearing up to begin selling the $58,000 cars in the state in late 2017, the culmination of years of planning and work to establish fueling stations and other infrastructure.
“Toyota is committed to having the cars available here next year,” said Rinebold, who tested a model last year. “It’s like driving an electric car. It’s quiet, it moved quick. It was interesting. It’s the car of the future.”
There is currently one hydrogen vehicle fueling station in Wallingford and another is under construction in Hartford. Discussions are under way to build stations in the New Haven and Stamford regions as well, said Rinebold, whose nonprofit organization works with the private and public sectors to develop fuel cell infrastructure and technology.
California has been selling fuel cell cars for years, and invested tens of millions of dollars to build fueling stations and other infrastructure. The cars use a process that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which then charges a battery that powers the vehicle.
Other zero emission cars now sold in the state, such as the electric Chevy Volt, draw on power from the regional grid, and that power likely comes from a coal, oil or natural gas fired plant, all of which leave a carbon footprint.
Connecticut earlier this month allocated $2.7 million to its ongoing zero emission vehicle rebate program. Those purchasing a hybrid car, which uses both gas and electric power, or a full battery electric vehicle, receive rebates ranging from $750 to $3,000, depending on battery size.
The state is offering a $5,000 rebate to purchase a fuel cell powered car, but the vehicles are not yet for sale in the state.
“Putting more Connecticut drivers behind the wheel of an electric vehicle is what it will take to drive down harmful carbon emissions linked to climate change, reduce conventional pollutants that threaten our air quality and public health, and help motorists reduce the cost of owning and operating a car,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said while announcing additional money for rebates.
Rinebold said bringing fuel cell cars to the state is the result of a private and public partnership to build fueling stations and the emergence of a robust fuel cell industry. The stations produce the hydrogen fuel drivers pump into vehicles through a secure connection.
“It fuels just like a car,” Rinebold said. “You pull up, put the hose in, and that’s it. It’s a compression filling nozzle that puts high pressure gas into the car.”
Rinebold said the fuel cell car he tested had a range of about 300 miles and achieved the equivalent of about 70 miles to the gallon.
The Wallingford fueling station was built and is operated by Proton OnSite, which makes the fueling equipment at a plant located in the community. Another fueling station is now being built in Hartford.
“There was some federal support in the Wallingford station, but the Hartford station is private funding from Toyota,” Rinebold said. “We have talked with Proton about the next cluster being in New Haven and Stamford. The discussions are ongoing.”
Proton last year received a $2.5 million federal energy grant to develop a leading edge, long life battery at its Wallingford plant.
Connecticut officials have long been interested in zero emission vehicles, in part because the state is not in compliance with federal regulations to reduce ozone pollution.
Although much of that non-compliance is the result of prevailing winds bringing pollution to the state from factories west of Connecticut, reducing local emissions helps meet the requirement.
“The transportation sector is responsible for about 40 percent of the carbon emissions in Connecticut and we must address that challenge if we are going to meet the state’s aggressive climate change target of reducing emissions 80 percent from 2001 levels by 2050,” Klee said.
Rinebold said there is also an economic development incentive, and the possibility of additional jobs, in bringing fuel cell cars to the state and developing the technology.
“Connecticut is making the machines that make the hydrogen that’s being sold in Asia and Europe,” Rinebold said. “Wallingford is making the hydrogen fueling equipment. We are partnered to be at the core of the manufacturing industry.”
Rinebold added “California put tens of millions of dollars into its program. Connecticut has tried to create partnerships and coordinate deployment of the vehicles and stations. We want to see it work with private market resources.”