Put the key in the ignition, press it forward, hear that click, then the bronchial “ruhr-ruhr-ruhr,” then the mechanical whimper and finally this lament screamed into the overhead lamp: “This car is a piece of crap.”
Ironically, a piece of crap may soon power your car.
Well, kinda sorta.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) in Fountain Valley is holding a private “Commissioning Celebration” to mark the opening of the world's first Hydrogen Energy Station that will not only generate heat and electricity but renewable hydrogen for fuel cells in . . . ahem . . . THE AUTOMOBILES OF THE FUTURE! (read like one of those announcers in a 1950s science reel).
Time was, human piss and poop (the name of my '80s band, incidentally) was cleaned up just enough to simply be washed out to sea, where it would never ever never bother us again.
Then the kids went crazy over recycling, and human excrement became viewed not as waste but source. What leaves skid marks in your underwear is now transformed into nutrient-rich fertilizer and soil conditioner. At the center of this very county, waste water treated until it's hyper-clean is injected into natural underground aquifers so that it may eventually be redrawn as drinking water.
The Hydrogen Energy Station is really recycling the recycling–that is, using byproducts from the sanitation process to create energy. That's novel, but it's also being done elsewhere. What makes OCSD's project unique is the application of the technology to refuel fuel cells.
Funded in part by state and federal programs, the technology was developed through the National Fuel Cell Research Center, which is based at UC Irvine and directed by Scott Samuelsen, a professor of Mechanical, Aerospace and Environmental Engineering. Besides testing a fleet of alternative-fueled vehicles, the center is working closely with industry to dot the Orange County map (and eventually the world's–bwahahaha!) with alternative-fuel filling stations.
FuelCell Energy of Danbury, CT, and Air Products and Chemicals, which is based in Allentown, PA, have nurtured the Hydrogen Energy Station project for eight years, according to Samuelsen. Those companies, OCSD and the National Fuel Cell Research Center make up the joint venture with the U.S. Department of Energy, the state Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Samuelsen claims the endeavor will produce enough hydrogen to support a public fueling station at the Euclid Avenue exit off the 405 freeway in Fountain Valley, where refueling of hydrogen fuel cell cars is scheduled to begin commercially as early as 2014.
But don't feel the need to hold it until then.