Residents of California can take a trip to Orange County and find the world’s first sewage-powered refueling station. Located just off the 405 freeway, the station is located next to the Orange County waste-water treatment plant in Fountain Valley. The hydrogen fuel offers about 70 miles per gallon and the station can fuel up to 50 automobiles per day with the daily 120 kilograms of hydrogen gas produced at the plant. In order to produce the hydrogen gas, sewage is processed to collect methane. This methane is converted into hydrogen and sent into a fuel cell to power the entire plant with 250 kilowatts of electricity.
The remaining hydrogen is converted into fuel grade hydrogen and sent to the fueling station for consumer use. The people behind the conversion technology, AirPower, are looking at other sources for methane capture such as animal waste and landfill gas to potentially power millions of automobiles. This project was spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy in combination with the Orange County Sanitation District and California Air Resources Board. In addition to automobiles, hydrogen fuel can be used to power small machinery as well as structures such as cell towers.
BMW is working on similar technology at its U.S. based plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. By capturing methane gas at a local landfill, BMW wants to convert the gas to hydrogen fuel to power a new line of automobiles. While hydrogen fueling stations are still difficult to locate in comparison to regular gas stations, prices of hydrogen fuel are somewhat cheaper than the gasoline alternative. For instance, hydrogen gas sells for about $2.25 a kilogram (equivalent to a gallon) in Palm Springs, California compared to an average of about $3.70 a gallon in the same area. Prices on hydrogen powered vehicles are still high though. The Honda FCX Clarity, for instance, can only be leased at a price of $600 a month over three years.