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Irvine Officials Head Down the Hydrogen Highway

Times Staff Writer

Irvine Mayor Beth Krom drives a sedan that runs on regular unleaded, but for the next several months she will also hold a key to the possible future of automobiles.

She and other Irvine officials will be taking turns at the wheel of a $1-million, hydrogen-powered fuel cell hybrid vehicle as part of a pilot program in conjunction with Toyota and the National Fuel Center Research Center at UC Irvine.

Toyota is offering the use of one of its vehicles to Irvine to gauge public support for hydrogen-fueled cars, and city officials agreed to drive the prototype around town to show their support for alternative-fuel vehicles, they said. Production of such a vehicle is at least 10 years away.

Krom said the city’s commitment to a clean environment and the university’s hydrogen fueling station helped make the pilot program a “good fit.”

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About 100 fuel-cell vehicles are being tested across the state, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership. They will be served by 16 hydrogen fueling stations, including the one at UC Irvine. The other 15 stations are expected to open by 2007.

“There’s a lot of discussion today about limited resources and the dependence on fossil fuels,” Krom said. “I think that it’s one thing to talk and another to bring something to the ground level so the community can become familiar. We have the unique opportunity to do that.”

Krom and Councilman Sukhee Kang got behind the wheel after a two-hour orientation.

“The extraordinary thing about driving the vehicle is that it drives like a normal automobile,” Krom said. “It has [a Global Positioning System], air-conditioning -- all of the comforts one would expect in a vehicle. I just hope it brings about public acceptance.”

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