Hydrogen Road Tour brings vision of a gas-free future

They would have been mere curiosities a decade ago, when gasoline was cheap.

These days, with gas at nearly $4 a gallon, hydrogen-powered cars seem like just what American motorists need – they're quiet, efficient, good for the environment. You just can't buy one yet. And even if you could, you'd have a hard time filling it up.

Kristyna Culp wants one anyway.

“If there was the infrastructure to fuel that thing, I'd own one,” said Culp, a 43-year-old Charlotte resident while she visited the Hydrogen Road Tour stop at UNC Charlotte on Aug. 16. “Or two.”

The Road Tour is a 31-stop, 18-state sojourn for a small caravan of hydrogen-powered cars and their manufacturers, including Nissan, Toyota, BMW and Volkswagen. It's sponsored mainly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Hydrogen Association.

The point is to showcase hydrogen-fuel technology and show how it can power cars cleanly and efficiently, said Cheryl McQueary, a U.S. Department of Transportation administrator on the tour.

As for cost, a kilogram of hydrogen costs roughly what a gallon of gas does – but cars on hydrogen waste less fuel, she said.

Manufacturers began seriously exploring the technology five years ago, when President Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to develop commercial hydrogen fuel cells.