Fill ’er up, with hydrogen 

Council officially lends support to the Canadian Hydrogen Highway

Whistler is welcoming the world of hydrogen technology to the resort with open arms.

On Monday night council endorsed the Hydrogen Highway project, officially recognizing Whistler as the northern node in B.C.’s state of the art, alternative fuel cell highway, stretching from Victoria, the Lower Mainland and up the Sea to Sky corridor.

That highway is expected to be up and running by 2010 as a showcase for sustainable development during the Olympic Games.

"The message that Whistler sent… was very good news for the fuel cell industry members because now they can turn their attention to helping Whistler meet its objectives around sustainability while at the same time being able to deploy and demonstrate their products and services," said Alison Grigg, manager of the Hydrogen Highway project with Fuel Cells Canada, after Monday’s meeting.

Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works with the municipality, said council’s support lets the world know Whistler is open for business in exploring the options for hydrogen technology.

He said Whistler has become the focus for many hydrogen projects because of the resort’s commitment to sustainability and its visibility as a host venue for the 2010 Olympics, among other things.

As such, Whistler has been asked to serve as a host site for vehicles, refuelling stations and stationary fuel cell projects.

In a presentation to council on Monday Grigg explained that the world is increasingly looking to hydrogen for its energy future – there simply isn’t enough oil to go around, she added.

Hydrogen offers a number of benefits over traditional fossil fuels, not the least of which is the zero-emissions when used in fuel cell technology.

The Hydrogen Highway is a critical component in developing the technology and taking it to the next level.

"We can only simulate so much in a lab," said Grigg.

The highway will showcase a wide variety of fuel-cell products for transportation, portable and micro-power applications and stationary uses, all using the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure of the highway nodes.

Council unanimously supported the Hydrogen Highway in principle.

"I do think it’s visionary," said Councillor Ken Melamed.

"It’s the right way to move."

Yet, he has concerns that a move towards a hydrogen future, which should reduce the amount of green house gases in the environment, may make people complacent about the current state of affairs.

"Society still needs to get control of the changing climate of the planet," said Melamed.

Melamed also raised concerns about whether or not the highway will make the 2010 Games the most sustainable Games ever, as promised by the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

Whistler won’t really be using hydrogen by 2010 he said and so the Hydrogen Highway won’t contribute in any direct way to reducing energy consumption even though the Games will help to give hydrogen technology world-wide recognition.

Fuel cell cars are expected to be available to the general public between 2010 and 2012, according to the Ballard Power Systems Web site.

"We are already in a transition to a hydrogen economy," said Grigg.

"What we don’t know is how long that transition will take."

In the meantime the Hydrogen Highway is getting underway with its seven refuelling stations/project locations including Victoria, Vancouver International Airport, downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver, the University of British Columbia and the National Research Council, Surrey and Whistler.

Municipal staff has yet to begin to identify a site in Whistler for the station.

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