By Wileen Wong Kromhout

Vasilios Manousiouthakis, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been awarded $2.1 million in grant funding to build a state-of-the-art hydrogen fueling station on the UCLA campus.

A $1.7 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and a $400,000 grant from the state’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC) will go toward the construction of one of the largest hydrogen fueling stations in California, with a capacity to produce 140 kilograms of hydrogen a day for use in hydrogen-powered vehicles.

“The grants will enable UCLA to achieve a number of its long-term goals for promoting sustainability, both on campus and in the greater Los Angeles region,” said Michael Swords, executive director of Strategic Research Initiatives at UCLA. “The development of this hydrogen fueling station will also provide our students with a state-of-the-art learning and research facility where they can study and evaluate the logistics of hydrogen generation, distribution and supply — all of this while also providing a much needed boost to the development of the ‘hydrogen highway’ here in California.”

The station, which will be available for use by the public, will be run by UCLA Engineering’s Hydrogen Engineering Research Consortium (HERC), which Manousiouthakis directs. The consortium was established in 2005 after UCLA partnered with DaimlerChrysler Corp. and global energy company BP to help demonstrate elements of the hydrogen economy infrastructure.

“The goal of HERC is to accelerate the onset of the hydrogen economy through the development and demonstration of technologies for the production, storage, transportation and use of hydrogen,” Manousiouthakis said. “The new UCLA hydrogen fueling station will prove to be another milestone achievement in our efforts.”

UCLA has been at the forefront of hydrogen-related research since the 1970s, first with its student-built hydrogen-fueled car, which won the national Urban Vehicle Design Competition, and more recently with its novel cycle to produce hydrogen through the thermochemical decomposition of water.

Major energy providers and automotive manufacturers view hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles as the most sustainable mobility solution in the long term. Manousiouthakis, a systems engineering expert who focuses on the development of novel hydrogen production methods, believes that hydrogen production based on the reforming of natural gas — a process that involves the endothermic transformation of natural gas and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide — is the most economical route for hydrogen production today.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles generate minimal to no pollution and emit 50 percent less greenhouse gases and 90 percent less volatile organic, smog-forming and toxic emissions than today’s gasoline-powered vehicles, even when powered by hydrogen produced from natural gas.

“With this station, we aim to show that methane reforming–based stations essentially provide an answer to the question of hydrogen infrastructure,” Manousiouthakis said. “The proposed fueling station will demonstrate that we can effectively utilize the existing natural gas infrastructure to deliver hydrogen on-site. We won’t have to build new pipelines for hydrogen.”

The current environmental outlook for California is grim, and change is critical. California’s air pollution is among the worst in the world, and, according to HERC, if the state were a country, it would be world’s fifth-largest producer of global warming emissions. More than 60 percent of the state’s air pollution comes from mobile sources.

The grants from CARB and MSRC are part of a statewide initiative to help defray the costs of expanding and improving California’s network of natural gas and hydrogen fueling stations. CARB in particular is helping to advance Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “hydrogen highway” initiative to promote the creation of a hydrogen refueling network.

Furthermore, with recent amendments to the state’s Zero Emissions Vehicle program, automakers will be required to place 7,500 zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2014. Depending on the availability of hydrogen fueling stations, some of them will be fuel-cell vehicles.

Today there are 27 operational hydrogen fueling stations throughout the state, with 17 additional stations in the planning stage. Manousiouthakis hopes the new station, to be located near UCLA’s transit facility at the corner of Veteran and Kinross avenues, will be up and running by the end of this year.