State officials say they have found the right place to study introducing clean-fueled vehicles to the Buffalo Niagara region.
A project will explore using local hydropower to produce hydrogen for a fleet of emission-free vehicles to be used in Niagara Falls State Park.
The State Power Authority and Electric Power Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit California company, announced the project this week.
"Only a handful of states are looking at alternative fuels in a big way," said Brian Warner, a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki. "This is being aggressive and looking for real-world solutions."
The $168,000 engineering study will estimate how much electricity from the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston would be needed to split hydrogen from water to fuel vehicles. It also will recommend which hydrogen-powered vehicles would work best. Warner called Niagara Falls the perfect place for the state's pilot project on the clean resource.
"We have a fairly unique capability to bring green hydrogen from a renewable source at the lowest cost anywhere in the country," said Willard E. "Skip" Hauth, vice president of American Wind Power & Hydrogen, a limited liability corporation in Lewiston. "We have the lowest cost of hydrogen production in the world."
Hauth has a state contract to build a hydrogen refueling station at the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst, which he said will be unveiled this spring. That $700,000 project also will put two hydrogen-fueled cars on the road and aims to boost hydrogen fuel technology.
The study on local hydrogen production will conclude in June or July. State parks will use the results to decide how to move forward.
"All major auto manufacturers have developed [hydrogen-fueled] cars, but they are extremely expensive," Warner said Friday. "At least this study will let parks know we've found a way to produce enough hydrogen to fuel 'X' number of vehicles on an annual basis."
The results of the study also will help other state agencies decide how to deal with Pataki's mandate to reduce energy consumption, Warner said.
For Hauth, the study means a chance to develop the hydrogen economy here and increase the awareness of the benefits of the fuel source, which generates no greenhouse gases when produced by a renewable resource like hydropower. He said chemical plants on the Niagara River produce hydrogen as a cheap byproduct, which may attract jobs and businesses.
"What's going to be important for the results of the study are that not only will it help the state in creating incentives and mandates, but also to convince those of us in the private sector where the investment needs to be made," he said.
Hauth said he's pushing to install informational kiosks at his Amherst project and in Niagara Falls that explain how hydrogen fuel works.