WASHINGTON (AP) — About four miles east of the U.S.
Capitol, in an industrial section of town, sits a gas station that
looks like any other. But yesterday, it became the first in North
America to have a hydrogen-dispensing pump.

Shell executives, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and District
of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams unveiled the technology, which
the Bush administration hopes will help reduce the country’s
dependence on foreign oil.

“This will be, in fact, the first step toward the real
transition in the economy from the carbon-based economies of the
past to a hydrogen economy of the future,” Abraham said at
the station in Northeast Washington.

The pump services just six minivans that General Motors Corp.
uses to demonstrate the technology to government officials. But
with 80,000 vehicles passing by every weekday, Shell officials hope
it’ll get a lot of attention — and, eventually, a lot
of use.

GM hopes to sell affordable hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010,
and Shell envisions building on the number of stations and having
mass-market penetration between 2015 and 2025.

The minivans are equipped with fuel cell stacks that turn
hydrogen into electricity to power the vehicle. The only emission
is water vapor.

Not everyone supports the refueling station. More than two dozen
neighborhood residents with safety concerns protested the opening.
Organizers said they don’t want the station located 50 yards
from an elementary school.

“We have issues of how they would bring a truck into the
neighborhood to fuel up the hydrogen tank,” said Rev. Heath
Cheek. Others complained there was little notification about the
station.

“We probably went to the community later than we should
have to talk to them about the project,” admitted George
Smalley, a Shell Hydrogen spokesman.

Smalley said the chances of an explosion were “very, very
remote.” Hydrogen deliveries will happen at night or on
weekends, separately from gas deliveries, Smalley said.

The underground storage tank has 24-hour electronic monitoring,
and the pump requires a security code to use.

Local firefighters have also been trained on how to handle
incidents with hydrogen.

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