Life is a (hydrogen) highway 

Glenda Bartosh hits the hydrogen highway to discover the benefits and obstacles the hydrogen fuel cell industry offers and faces.

By Glenda Bartosh

If you’re cruising Highway 99 this coming Sunday afternoon and spot a fleet of shiny vehicles sporting logos like “BCHydroGen”, “Green Power” and “H 2 ” you’ve just caught a glimpse of the future.

It’s all part of a road rally that’s helping to kick off a big hydrogen fuel cell convention and trade show in Vancouver April 29 through May 2. At the same time, the rally is providing a real-time demo of the latest hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and the technology surrounding them, while showcasing Whistler as the anchor for the hydrogen highway.

The rally, which kicks off at Vancouver’s Convention Centre at 1 p.m., features six fuel cell vehicles — two Ford Focuses and a 
DaimlerChrysler F-Cell, which are powered by Ballard fuel cells; a GM Hydrogen 3 Zafira; a
 Toyota Highlander; and a 
Nissan X-Trail — plus a GMC Sierra pickup truck which has been converted to run on hydrogen but has an internal combustion engine.

In Vancouver, the vehicles will fuel up at a portable hydrogen station that’s been set up by Powertech Labs, a Surrey-based subsidiary wholly-owned by B.C. Hydro that is hosting the event. It’s a leader in providing hydrogen fuelling technology and vehicle testing expertise.

“We’ve got a number of years of experience with natural gas fuel storage systems,” says Angela Nanalal, rally organizer and a Powertech project engineer who designs hydrogen fuelling stations.

“Natural gas is considered similar to hydrogen in that both are gaseous fuels that can be treated the same way — they’re both compressed gases that can be used to fuel vehicles.”

Powertech is also setting up a portable hydrogen fuelling station at the B.C. Hydro Rainbow sub-station to service the vehicles once they reach Whistler. Even the fuel source for the rally has a nice “green” angle: it’s all Green Certified Power.

By 3:30 p.m., the rally will swing up to Whistler, where the vehicles will be displayed at the Telus Conference Centre for Whistler’s mayor, council members and other guests. Unfortunately, the event is closed to the public for security reasons, but if you’re keen to see the vehicles, stop by the conference centre between 3:30 and 4 p.m. when they’ll be washed and prepped for display. On Monday morning, they will head back to Vancouver.

Not only is the rally an amazing display of fuel cell technology in motion, it’s also a see-me, touch-me manifestation of something that people may have heard about, but don’t fully understand — the hydrogen highway.

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