Industry fuel cell expert clears the air on hydrogen

James Raia

Chris White of the California Fuel Cell Partnership drives as Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.

Nineteen months ago, Chris White did something no one else in Northern California had done. She leased a new car that operates only on hydrogen.

Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are manufacturers offering hydrogen-only vehicles. Mercedes-Benz and GM also have plans for hydrogen-only vehicles, the emissions of which are water. The 2017 and 2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell are available for lease only in only 12 dealerships in California. Five locales are in the San Francisco Bay Area, one is in Roseville.

The long-time Communications Director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento, White also lives in West Sacramento. But she often travels to San Ramon on business and Truckee to visit relatives. Hydrogen stations are located in both cities.

Chris White of the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento drives a Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. It runs on hydrogen.
Chris White of the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento drives a Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. It runs on hydrogen.

Question: What kind of reaction have you received when people notice your car?

Chris White: It’s kind of funny, as soon as it got warm this spring and people had their car windows down again, I had about three days in a row when every time I was at a stoplight or a stop sign, the person next to me asked me about my car.

Q: The Honda Clarity is eligible for single driver sticker for High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Have you had any unusual experiences using the lane?

CW: I was coming home from the Sacramento airport at night. I was tired. The car in front of me just stopped for no reason. Even though I was depressing on the brake, I couldn’t have stopped in time. The car’s collision mitigation system depressed the brake further and it steered a little bit crooked and so that I was at a 45-degree angle. Therefore, the car behind me didn’t smash into the back of my car.

Q: There are detractors to the hydrogen car industry. Do you find yourself justifying the kind of car you drive or are you over that?

CW: I am personally over it. I am personally very committed to clean air and reducing our petroleum use. I really believe to get there we need to drive battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles and use more fuels made from bio-wastes like natural gas. We need to ride our bikes more and ride the bus. It will take a combination of factors.

Q: You mentioned there are some really angry people who dislike hydrogen cars. What’s the issue?

CW: It’s not like football. It’s not like my team is better than your team and only my team can win the Super Bowl. It takes a combination of factors. But some people are very passionate about only one kind of technology. They’re passionate about wooden boats as opposed to fiberglass boats. I do admire the passion some people have.

Q: It’s complicated, right?

CW: What I usually tell people is you can think of gas in a gas car like a beach ball and electricity in a battery car and hydrogen in a fuel cell car like a golf ball and a ping-pong ball. One of them is slightly bigger than the other, but does it make any difference when you compare them to the beach ball?

Q: Are you an alternative fuel vehicle user because of your environmental beliefs or because of the financial considerations or both?

CW: I am going to say neither of those. I was driving a Chevy Equinox. I loved it. It was a 2008 and it had a lot of miles on it. It had leather seats and the leather got a crack. It was starting to need a lot of repair work. It was time for a new car and when I started looking, it seemed a little silly as a single person who lives by herself to need an SUV.

Article Last Updated: June 14, 2018.

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