Accelerating the Adoption of Low Carbon Transportation Fuels

The transportation sector accounts for 37% of all tracked greenhouse gas emissions1 in California, making this a key focus sector in statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The California Energy Commission has aggressively funded the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) through which SERC has received funding for numerous planning and implementation projects over the last four years.

Transportation-countiesSERC is continuing this important work through three more planning and implementation projects funded through ARFVTP in partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council:

  • The North Coast Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan Implementation Project, which covers Del-Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties. This project will address permitting and code barriers to the installation of electric vehicle charging stations (EVCSs), conduct micro-siting efforts to identify viable locations for EVCSs, and engage in education and outreach efforts.
  • The Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Glenn-Colusa Planning & Upstate Implementation Project, which covers Colusa, Glenn, Siskiyou, Shasta, and Tehama Counties. For this project we will develop a readiness plan for Glenn and Colusa Counties, address permitting and code barriers to the installation of EVCSs, conduct micro-siting efforts to identify viable locations for EVCSs, and engage in education and outreach efforts.
  • The North Coast and Upstate Fuel Cell Readiness Planning Project, which covers Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, and Trinity Counties. This project will develop a readiness plan for the ten county region to prepare for the accelerated deployment of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

These projects build upon and expand the geographic reach of past efforts.


Helping California Pursue Greenhouse Gas Reductions in the Transportation Sector

The State of California has set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions:  a reduction to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 28% of the State’s total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to light-duty passenger vehicles. Understandably, the State has placed significant focus on reducing emissions in the transportation sector, with a key strategy being the widespread deployment of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). This includes both plug-in electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCVs), two technology areas where SERC has significant expertise.

As part of their policy analyses, CARB staff estimated that ZEV market penetration levels over the next three decades will need to reach dramatic levels in order for us to reach our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The figure below depicts a scenario where FCVs and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) make up a whopping 87% of the light duty auto fleet in 2050, with the remainder of the fleet being composed of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and conventional vehicles.

Target Market Penetration Levels for Passenger Vehicles

State sponsored efforts to encourage and even require the widespread deployment of ZEVs include regulations requiring auto manufactures to sell a minimum number of ZEVs in the State; consumer rebates for ZEV purchases; funding to support local planning for ZEVs and associated fueling infrastructure; and funding to support the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations.

Many of SERC’s projects over the last two decades have supported these efforts. In the early days (circa 1990), SERC developed a small fleet of FCVs and a hydrogen fueling station for SunLine Transit in Thousand Palms, CA. Later SERC provided technical support for AC Transit’s fuel cell bus program, and delivered hydrogen safety trainings for emergency first responders for FCV projects around the country. SERC designed and installed a hydrogen fueling station at Humboldt State University, which has enabled SERC to operate, test, and demonstrate a Toyota Highlander FCV for the last five years.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

In the last few years, SERC has been involved in several California Energy Commission funded projects to support the deployment of ZEVs. These efforts have included Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness projects for the North Coast region (Humboldt, Trinity, and Del Norte counties) and the Upstate region (Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties). These two projects featured the development of plans to install EV charging stations throughout these regions. SERC’s work in these locales continues as we identify additional locations for EV charging stations and support the design and installation of many of these stations. In addition, we are working on a project to assess the opportunities and barriers associated with deployment of a wide array of alternative fuel vehicles in the North Coast region. This includes not only EVs and FCVs, but also biofuel and natural gas fueled vehicles.

SERC has also recently partnered with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley and others to establish the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies (NorthCAT).  NorthCAT will focus on education, training, demonstration, and deployment of alternative transportation fuels and advanced vehicle technologies in the Northern California region.

Watch future newsletters for updates on these projects as SERC continues to help the north state region move toward a low-carbon, sustainable transportation future.

SERC to Celebrate Our 25th Anniversary

On the afternoon of Friday, May 16, Schatzers from far and wide will gather at Freshwater Park outside Eureka to commemorate the silver anniversary of the Schatz Energy Research Center. Catered food and general merriment will help us celebrate 25 years of clean and renewable energy work.

It all began with a phone call in May of 1989. Mr. Schatz called me up to ask questions about a proposal I had sent him to build a system to demonstrate using hydrogen to store solar energy. He had solicited ideas about hydrogen research from HSU and when I heard about the possibility, I sent him a proposal the next day.

Mr. Schatz didn’t waste words. He started the conversation by saying, “This is Mr. Schatz. You sent me a proposal. I have questions.” Our call lasted over an hour and when it was over, I suggested sending him a revised proposal based on our conversation. He agreed and I did. Less than two weeks later, a small envelope with a check for $75,000 appeared in my mailbox and the great adventure that has become the Schatz Center had begun.

The first thing I did was to knock on Charles Chamberlin’s door. Charles and I had collaborated on several projects before and I knew he was just the partner I needed. Our partnership has been a cornerstone for the lab ever since.


Directors Peter Lehman and Charles Chamberlin pose in front of the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project in 1995.

That first project, the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project at HSU’s marine lab in Trinidad, turned out to be just the beginning. When the fuel cell we bought for the project didn’t work, Mr. Schatz told me, “Build your own.” So Charles and I wrote a proposal to build a fuel cell lab and begin work to develop our own fuel cell. Along came another small envelope, this time with a check for $300,000 and a small handwritten note that said, “Get to work!”


Director Arne Jacobson with Charles and Peter at SERC’s 20th Anniversary party.

That experience led us to many more hydrogen projects and to many places. We introduced America’s first PEM fuel cell car and built the first hydrogen fueling station in the late 1990s, near Palm Springs in southern California. We built fuel cell power systems for remote use in Alaska and for a radio telephone system in Redwood National Park. We’ve installed fuel cell test stations in a number of universities, including most recently in Abu Dhabi. Four corporations have licensed our fuel cell patents, seeking to commercialize the technology.

Fast forward to today and our energy work has broadened considerably. We’re involved in developing standards for LED lighting products and in providing energy access in Africa and Asia. We’ve branched out into bioenergy, with projects to install a biomass-fired fuel cell power system here locally and another to characterize technologies such as biochar and torrefaction, in an effort to reduce the cost of getting energy rich biomass to market.  We’re also involved in helping to plan electric and alternative fuel infrastructure here in northern California and in India. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

It’s the people at SERC who have made this happen. Over these 25 years, 145 people have contributed their efforts to our enterprise.  We’re lucky that one of them, Arne Jacobson, returned to SERC after getting his PhD to become our director and to lead our international work. Many more have gone on to interesting and important energy careers around the world.

We have much to celebrate as we look back over a quarter of a century. And we can be proud that we’re continuing our work to make this a greener planet.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3We have completed the transition from summer to fall here in far northern California, and – while it has been clear and sunny for the past few days – we recently had the first heavy rainstorm of the season. As the seasons change, we remain busy at SERC with a diverse portfolio of clean energy projects. The selection of articles in this newsletter reflects this diversity.

In the lead article, Richard Engel reports on a project that is in line with our broader work aimed at enabling energy access in off-grid areas ranging from South Asia to East Africa. We are also happy to report on recent progress in our biomass energy collaboration with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT). We look forward to deepening our work with RFT and others in the field as we expand our efforts in this arena.

Several other articles reflect our long tradition of work related to clean transportation. We were pleased to be in a position to fuel the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that SERC alum Anand Gopal and his wife Liz Pimentel drove up from the Bay Area. We hope this event will be the first of many such occurrences made possible by our hydrogen vehicle fueling station.

We are also pleased to extend our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging infrastructure planning work from California to India. The work in New Delhi, which involves collaboration with Anand Gopal and colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will require analysis in a new and complex setting involving very different driving patterns and electricity infrastructure. We at SERC always like to get involved in new and challenging work, and we hope to contribute meaningfully to the wider effort to enable cleaner transportation systems in New Delhi and beyond.

I will close by welcoming several new members to the SERC team. This August, Nick Bryant of Washington state and Amit Khare of New Delhi, India started work at SERC. They are also pursuing master’s degrees in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) program here at HSU. We also have three additions to our docent team, including Yaad Rana, Onomewerike “Robo” Okumo, and Jake Coniglione. All are undergraduate students in the Environmental Resources Engineering program. It is great to have these students on board.

HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station Hosts First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Commute from the Bay Area


Anand Gopal poses with the Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV-adv) that he drove from the Bay Area.

Anand Gopal, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) and former Schatz Energy Fellow, and Elizabeth Pimentel-Gopal, former HSU Assistant Director of Admissions, drove from Berkeley to Arcata to visit friends and family over the second weekend of September. Rather than a mundane weekend trip, theirs was a precedent-setting event; their entire trip was powered by hydrogen fuel.

Their trip represents the first time the HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station has been used to fuel a vehicle commuting to and from the Bay Area aside from the vehicles under test at SERC. Filling the Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid vehicle (FCHV-adv) with hydrogen at 700-bar (10,000 psi) gave the vehicle a range of over 285 miles and enabled Anand and Elizabeth to complete their return trip to one of the nearest hydrogen stations (located in Richmond and Emeryville). For Anand the event was especially meaningful. During his time at SERC, the HSU student team that he advised won an international hydrogen energy design competition in 2005, which inspired the development of the HSU hydrogen station.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3The last few months have been busy ones at SERC. As outlined in this issue, we continue to be active on several efforts related to hydrogen and fuel cells. One especially notable milestone, led by Senior Research Engineer Greg Chapman, was completion of an upgrade to our hydrogen fueling station. It is now capable of fueling vehicles to 700 bar pressure. This is an exciting step forward that will allow us to drive fuel cell powered vehicles back and forth to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

We have also been busy with several efforts related to access to energy for people in off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Research Engineer Tom Quetchenbach writes about recent work related to renewable energy mini-grids, and Research Engineer Meg Harper describes our participation in the 3rd International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair, held from November 13 to 15 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference was organized and sponsored by Lighting Africa, a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. I was on the conference organizing committee, and many of us from SERC were involved in preparations for the meeting.

In many ways, the conference was a reunion for SERC staff, alum, and long-time collaborators who have worked on energy access and off-grid lighting over the past several years. The SERC crew included Kristen Radecsky, Patricia Lai, and me. SERC alumni in attendance were Peter Alstone, Jennifer Tracy, and Chris Carlsen. Many long-time collaborators (too many to mention) from Lighting Africa, the Lumina Project, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a host of private sector firms and government agencies were also there.

What drew us all together in Dakar for a few days of intense conversation and networking? As many of you know, rechargeable LED lamps have emerged as an affordable alternative to fuel-based lighting in many off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Commercial sales of quality assured off-grid lighting and energy systems have skyrocketed as the products have gotten better, prices have dropped, and companies have become increasingly successful at reaching low-income off-grid customers. The meeting in Dakar was aimed at sustaining and accelerating this progress through information exchange, strategic discussions, and networking.

There was a buzz in the halls at the conference, and the attendees had good reason to be excited. The rapid emergence of LED-based off-grid lighting has some very positive implications. Solar-charged LED lights typically save off-grid families and businesses money from reduced expenditure on lighting fuel. Many of the products also charge mobile phones, which can lead to additional savings. In addition, the health benefits of a transition away from kerosene lighting are large. A new report sponsored by the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) details kerosene lighting’s role in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries annually from fires, explosions, indoor air pollution, and accidental ingestion by infants. Additionally, it seems that the climate change mitigation benefits of measures to reduce kerosene are much larger than previously understood. A recently published study out of UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois indicates that the climate forcing effect of black carbon (soot) emissions from kerosene wick lamps is about 20 times larger than the warming effect of carbon dioxide emissions from the lamps. This provides good motivation to press forward with efforts like Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Global LEAP.

For now, though, we are all looking forward to a little end-of-year rest. Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year.

The 700 bar Hydrogen Fueling System is in Service

SERC has successfully installed and commissioned the 700 bar hydrogen fueling system at the Humboldt State University (HSU) Hydrogen Station. The first 700 bar hydrogen fueling of a Toyota FCHV-advanced vehicle took place on October 25, 2012 during testing operations with engineers from Toyota.

The 18-month project was supported by a grant from the California Department of Transportation entitled, “Developing a Hydrogen Transportation Infrastructure.” With the new fueling system, the station can now completely fuel state-of-the-art vehicles, such as the Toyota FCHV-advanced vehicle, to 700 bar. This high pressure fueling capability now connects the HSU station with the rest of California’s Hydrogen Highway.

The new fueling system required the installation of a 700 bar compressor and dispensing hardware to allow full fueling of vehicles. The compressor pumps hydrogen from the existing 420 bar storage tanks through the dispensing plumbing and directly into the vehicle’s fuel tanks.


Research Engineer Meg Harper performs a 700 bar refueling.

Data collection and analysis has started and will continue in order to evaluate the 700 bar fueling system and vehicle performance in day-to-day use. Through this continued operation and evaluation, SERC will contribute to the technical experience needed in the development of a hydrogen transportation infrastructure and also assist in public acceptance of this alternative fuel technology in California.

Hydrogen Fueling Station Upgrade

SERC engineers have completed the testing phase of the project’s commissioning plan. Two critical and successful steps in the plan were the high pressure testing of the 700 bar dispensing system and hydrogen gas analysis. The gas analysis, performed by two independent laboratories, indicate that the station’s gas quality meets the Hydrogen Fuel Quality for Fuel Cell Vehicles (SAE J2719) requirements set forth by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

The final task for project completion will be the initial 700 bar hydrogen fueling of one of the Toyota FCHV-adv vehicles. Toyota engineers will be on-site to monitor the fueling process and ensure that station operators follow proper vehicle fueling protocols.

Toyota FCHV-adv

The fueling station now serves two Toyota FCHV-adv; the second vehicle, also on loan from UC Berkeley, arrived at SERC in July.

HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station Upgrade

The 700 bar compressor and partially-assembled high pressure dispensing system mounted on the block wall.

SERC is nearing the completion of the installation phase of our hydrogen station upgrade project. As a reminder, when it’s complete, the upgrade will allow us to completely fill our Toyota fuel cell car with 6 kg of hydrogen.  That will give us a 400-mile range, enough to travel to the Bay Area or Sacramento and back.

The new 700 bar compressor is mounted and electrical power and the nitrogen and hydrogen gas supply lines have been connected. We are now in the process of installing the last few components of the high-pressure hydrogen dispensing system (the compressor discharge side). Once assembly is complete, SERC engineers will begin the testing phase of the commissioning plan. Tests will include field inspections, instrumentation verification tests, gas analysis, and pressure testing of the hydrogen plumbing.  The initial start-up and operational testing of the new system will follow sometime in late July. This is an exciting period in the project; we’ll keep you posted on our progress.

A Message from the Director: Passing the Torch

This is my last director’s column.  After 7 years of newsletters and 23 years at the helm of the Schatz lab, I’ll be entering the faculty early retirement program in mid-August and passing the torch on to Arne Jacobson who will become the lab’s director.

We’re fortunate to have Arne stepping in.  He was one of the first grad students to work at the lab; his master’s thesis concerned work with the electrolyzer at the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and now is my colleague in the Environmental Resources Engineering department.  Arne’s long time connection with the lab, his service as co-director for five years, and his strong leadership skills will serve us well for many years to come.  And starting next issue, you’ll get to read his thoughts in this space.

Meanwhile, I’m not going away.  Working here is way too interesting and fun to stop now.  During the five years of my early retirement program, I’ll be known as the Founding Director and share leadership duties with Arne.  I look forward to being busy and involved; maybe I’ll even have a chance to get back into the lab and turn a wrench or two.

In this issue of our newsletter, Peter Alstone and Meg Harper keep us up to date on summer activities in Kenya as part of the Lighting Africa project and Richard Engel writes a tribute to our benefactor Mr. Schatz on the 100th anniversary of his birth.  Jim Zoellick describes a project with local partners to plan for an electric vehicle infrastructure in Humboldt County, Allison Oakland describes our continuing effort to bring fuel cell topics into science education with a teacher workshop, and Greg Chapman describes progress in upgrading our hydrogen fueling station to 700 bar operation.

I’m writing this on the summer solstice as the sun shines its warmth and light on our hemisphere.  I want to thank all you faithful readers and send a fond farewell.  It’s been a joy and a privilege to communicate with you through this column; let’s all keep working to improve the health of our beautiful planet.  Goodbye, thank you, and best wishes.