Keith Bethune, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute Research Support, works with a United Technologies Co. Series 400 Single Cell Fuel Cell. This setup tests the cell's durability and performance.

Isle fuel cell facility
hopes to fire up
clean energy

The Kakaako site will try to develop
commercially viable hydrogen power

The Hawaii Fuel Cell Test Facility opened for business yesterday in Kakaako, with its partners predicting it can help make Hawaii a world leader in hydrogen power.

The venture will have up to 20 scientists, coordinated by the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, studying ways to make fuel cell technology more commercially practical.

A fuel cell generates electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen electrochemically, or without combustion. It operates like a battery but does not run down or require recharging, and its only byproduct is water, according to UTC Fuel Cells, the world's largest maker of fuel cells and a partner in the public-private venture.

A fuel cell can be used to run electric appliances and devices, including cars and buses.

Other partners are the Office of Naval Research, which has supplied much of the funding and will be benefiting from the research, and Hawaiian Electric Co., which is supplying the location on Cooke Street and free electricity to run the tests.

Barry Raleigh, dean of the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, told a crowd of more than 100 at a dedication ceremony yesterday that the military and NASA developed the technology of fuel cells for uses "where cost was not an issue."

The fuel cell is a quiet, clean-burning, "wonderful device," Raleigh said, "but it's a long way from being competitive commercially. That's where this test facility is about."

The Hawaii project has two fuel cell "test stands" installed, a third one awaiting installation and a fourth one coming by the end of the year. The building ultimately could house as many as eight of the setups, which cost about $400,000 each, said Rick Rocheleau, director of the Natural Energy Institute.

Each test stand allows scientists to compare the efficiency, power output and other factors of various kinds of fuel cells, including ones designed by the researchers, Rocheleau said.

U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, who were present at a dedication ceremony at the facility yesterday, were credited with obtaining more than $4 million in federal financing to jump-start the project.

Hawaii is more dependent than any other state on fossil fuel and as a result has explored thermal, ocean, wind and solar power, "and now this," Inouye said. "Someday when the work is done here, we'll be able to use this clean, efficient fuel to move our ships, our trucks, our tanks and our nation."


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