Hydrogen may one day replace gasoline as the power source for the world's passenger vehicles. And if it does, the gaswill not only provide cheaper transportation, but it will also clear the air of foul auto emissions, supporters said Friday.
These goals were expressed - and embraced by hydrogen advocates and visitors - at the Hydrogen Road Tour 2008, a traveling road show involving nine hydrogen-powered cars that began a cross-country trip two weeks ago in Portland, Maine. It will end today in Santa Monica, Calif.
The tour arrived at Gateway Community College in east Phoenix on Friday for a two-hour demonstration after 30 stops in 18 states.
Visitors were given a chance to ride in and drive hydrogen-powered vehicles.
"We selected greater Phoenix as one of the stopping points because of the leadership in Maricopa County toward the use of hydrogen," said Paul Brubaker, administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Brubaker told the crowd of more than 150, including many high school and community college students, that the first hydrogen-powered bus in the nation was introduced in the Valley.
He said the goal of the tour was to encourage the transition of hydrogen-powered vehicles from the testing laboratories and demonstration venues to the roads.
"The technology necessary to put these cars on the road, and keep them moving, exists today," said Brubaker.
He said the nation and the world should end their dependency on petroleum and replace more than 230 million vehicles in the United States with an alternate fuel such as hydrogen.
He noted that six transit agencies across the country currently operate hydrogen-powered buses and that auto dealers in California are leasing hydrogen vehicles.
Bill Sheaffer, executive director of the Valley of the Sun Clean Cities Coalition, one of the tour organizers along with Arizona Public Service, called the hydrogen tour a look into the future.
"This is an impressive demonstration of technology in motion," Sheaffer said.
Asked why hydrogen didn't replace gasoline years ago, Sheaffer replied:
"It's a difficult technology that takes a lot of money, a lot of research, and it's taken a lot of time to get where it is today. It's also competing with a lot of other choices, including compressed natural gas, biodiesel fuel, electric cars and hybrids. The advantages of hydrogen are phenomenal, but I don't seeing it becoming commercialized or widely used for another five or 10 years."
Dozens of visitors either drove or rode in the vehicles around the campus parking lot, including Roger Partridge, a financial manager for a mortgage company in Chandler.
"I'm impressed. There was no engine roar," he said after driving the hydrogen-powered Nissan.
Julissa Lopez, 18, a student at Gateway Community College who drives a 2008 Kia Rio, stopped her tour car, got out and told her friends, "It's cool!"
Student Leon Jimenez, 17, said, "It's good for our future."
Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., said the tour was a good example of the use of tax dollars.
"A lot of taxpayers' money has gone toward researching alternate energy," Pastor said. "It's important that we show the American public the technology."
The tour is sponsored by nine auto manufacturers: BMW, Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen as well as the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the National Hydrogen Association and the U.S. Department of Transportation.