KANSAS CITY — A fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles stopped in Missouri to promote the alternative fuel at one of the nation’s few fueling stations to power the cars.
The Hydrogen Road Tour came through Rolla on Tuesday at the first hydrogen refueling station in the Midwest, one of 31 tour stops in 18 states, The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been showing vehicles from BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and others on the tour.
“The whole notion here is to show the American people, the people of Missouri and the people of Rolla that this is reality,” said Paul Brubaker, an administrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “These cars are real. They’re here.”
Students at MU have been participating in making the hydrogen car a reality since 2005 under the leadership of Rick Whelove, director of undergraduate studies for mechanical engineering. After building solar-powered cars for 12 years, Whelove said his students saw an evolution coming that would favor hydrogen technology, and they began work on a hydrogen-powered vehicle.
“So we thought, ‘Hey, we’ll be ahead of the game,’” Whelove said.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles were on the radar in Rolla as well, at what is now Missouri University of Science and Technology. Whelove said a couple from the Rolla campus came to Columbia when they heard about the efforts at Mizzou to build a hydrogen car.
“It sounds like they’ve been successful because at the time they visited, Rolla didn’t yet have the hydrogen fueling station and that was maybe two years ago,” Whelove said.
The caravan on the Hydrogen Road Tour broke its journey in Rolla and at the Fort Leonard Wood Army post to highlight the fuel some say could be an alternative to oil.
The cars had to be trucked in from their previous stop in Tennessee because there are no such fueling stations along the way to service them, Brubaker said. They were also transported out of Missouri to Albuquerque, N.M., where the tour continued Wednesday.
Though the technology works much better than solar for transportation vehicles, Whelove said, it will be a challenge to market hydrogen cars until refill stations are built across the country. MU students worked around that problem by approaching industrial supply manufacturers for hydrogen tanks.
Researchers say the “hydrogen highway” needed to bring the fuel to a filling station will cost about $500 billion.
Missouri University of Science and Technology, through partnerships with the government, the military, Ford Motor Co. and others, runs two hydrogen-powered shuttle buses around campus and between Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood.
“The idea was that we would be a rural test bed,” said Mindy Limback, a spokeswoman for the university. “You hear a lot about hydrogen vehicles in California or at airports, but they’re not having to deal with the Ozark hills while going 70 miles per hour.”
With the buses came a hydrogen filling station, the only one in the Midwest, said Scott Grasman, an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering.
Brubaker is one of several officials from government, auto industry and other groups shepherding the cars from Maine to California this month. Supporters say it’s a cleaner fuel.
The vehicles on display Tuesday used either a fuel cell, which combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, or a combustion engine powered by liquid hydrogen. The cars ran quieter than the average four-cylinder but had all the same pedals, displays and knobs and performed about the same.
MU students demonstrated a completed hydrogen-powered vehicle at the North American Solar Challenge, but Whelove said he hopes events like the Hydrogen Road Tour mean his students might be able to find a more appropriate event in coming years in which they can participate.
Missourian reporter Anna Codutti contributed to this report.