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PGV could power buses


Stephens Media

A first-of-its-kind demonstration project to stabilize the Big Island electric grid while creating hydrogen for public transportation could be off and running by the first quarter of 2013.

“This is all pretty state of the art stuff,” said Mitch Ewan, hydrogen systems program manager for the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, which is conducting an environmental assessment as the first step in the process.

The electrolyzer-based hydrogen production system to be located at the site of Puna Geothermal Ventures will separate hydrogen and oxygen from well water at the PGV site, using PGV’s electric power. The hydrogen will be compressed and stored in high-pressure containers before being transported for use in custom-made shuttles for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency.

The buses, including a 19-passenger shuttle bus to be used by Hawaii County Mass Transit, are currently in production, at a cost of about $500,000 each, Ewan said.

The hydrogen is more or less a byproduct of one of the key goals of the project, which is to test the performance and durability of the electrolyzer as a way of stabilizing power into the Hawaii Electric Light Co. grid. HELCO engineers currently perform a delicate balancing act of monitoring power from intermittent sources such as solar and wind, and adjusting the steady sources up or down to keep the power stream constant.

The study will also perform a cost/benefit analysis of grid-integrated and off-grid revenue streams, according to the 150-page draft environmental assessment located at

The developers plan a public meeting on the project from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Keaau Community Center. The public also can submit written comments on the environmental assessment to Geometrician Associates, P.O. Box 396, Hilo, HI 96721.

Ewan said the hydrogen power project isn’t expected to be able to compete commercially at the current price of fossil fuels, but it’s a pathway to understanding hydrogen as a fuel source for the future.

“It’s R&D. … I would have to be frank and say it’s not commercial yet,” Ewan said. “One of the outcomes of the project is a business case looking at economies to see how it pencils out.”

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