Richmond’s ‘Road to Zero Day’ raises awareness on hydrogen’s role in zero-emission future

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Richmond’s ‘Road to Zero Day’ raises awareness on hydrogen’s role in zero-emission future
Chevron Richmond General Manager Tolly Graves speaks at Richmond's Road to Zero Day on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.

On the same day California regulators moved to ban the sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, leading energy experts from across the state, including Chevron Richmond, hosted a packed conference at the Craneway Pavilion on August 25 that focused on the important role that hydrogen will play in the Bay Area’s energy transition.

Held in the waterfront warehouse that decades ago served as the largest automobile assembly plant on the West Coast, “Road to Zero Day” drew hundreds of representatives of the transportation, energy, labor and government sectors for a discussion on the steps and partnerships needed to develop a statewide infrastructure for hydrogen fuels, a little-understood renewable source that is viewed as critical for the energy transition.

The event drew participation from a wide variety of organizations interested in or invested in an energy future that incorporates hydrogen, from large businesses like Toyota, Hyundai, Cummins and Iwatani to government agencies such as AC Transit and the City of Richmond. Bill Whitney, CEO of the Contra Costa Building Trades, advocated in support of hiring local union labor to build the necessary infrastructure, saying hydrogen will be “a huge factor in where we are going and what we are going to be doing.”

While electric cars are fast-advancing and growing in popularity, they alone can’t achieve the state’s goals of stamping out tailpipe emissions, which currently account for 47 percent of California’s greenhouse emissions, according to State Sen. Josh Newman, a keynote speaker at Thursday’s event.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology provides a number of unique advantages to EVs. The zero emission solution places no burden on the electrical grid and provides for quick fueling and long ranges in comparison to EVs. Unlike batteries and all-electric vehicles, hydrogen has the energy density required to efficiently operate heavy-duty vehicles that transport goods and people across the state and nation, according to industry experts.

“As you scale up in either size, distance and range you want, that’s where hydrogen makes more sense.”

A Hyzon zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell powered commercial truck parked in front of an AC Transit hydrogen fuel cell passenger bus outside the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond for Road to Zero Day.

“As you scale up in either size, distance and range you want, that’s where hydrogen makes more sense,” said Bill Elrick, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, adding, “The technology is here, it’s part of the zero-emission vehicle transition, and we need to scale that up.”

Despite its attributes, hydrogen hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the energy transition conversation, said Sen. Newman. Less than 7 percent of state funding for zero-emission infrastructure is directed toward hyrdogen, he said.

“We are not doing the best job we can supporting these technologies equally and fairly,” Newman said. “At the end of the day, hydrogen is here to help.”

Chevron has been investing heavily in incorporating a zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure in Richmond, the state and beyond. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to build 30 hydrogen fueling sites at Chevron-branded retail locations across California by 2026 in partnership with Iwatani Corp. The announcement is part of a broader, long-ranging goal by Chevron to create a viable, zero-emission energy source for commercial and passenger cars and trucks.

One of those hydrogen fueling sites is planned for a property in North Richmond.  The station, called the Chevron Energy Plaza, will locate near the site of a future FedEx fulfillment center on Parr Boulevard that will lead the nation in fastest transition to zero-emission trucks.

The fueling sites will be supplied, in part, by excess hydrogen produced at the Richmond Refinery, which recently underwent a $1 billion modernization. The project “helped us build the largest, most modern and lowest emission hydrogen plant in the West Coast,” said Mauricio Molina, strategic planner manager of the Richmond Refinery.

“That plant has capacity to supply this emerging market,” Molina said.

Chevron has additionally partnered with Raven SR to build modular waste-to-hydrogen production facilities in Northern California, including at the Republic Services landfill in Richmond.

“At Chevron we want to help this community make this transition and help maintain the Bay Area’s energy leadership position.”

“At Chevron we want to help this community make this transition and help maintain the Bay Area’s energy leadership position,” said Refinery General Manager Tolly Graves. “Doing it together creates good jobs and a stable, sizable tax base that helps the economy continue to grow.”

The buzz about hydrogen is catching on, albeit gradually.

“We’re going to move away from the internal combustion of today. We know that hydrogen is part of that future,” said Congressman John Garamendi, who delivered opening remarks at Road to Zero Day.

With that in mind, Chevron, which has operated in Richmond for more than a century, wants to ensure the city remains a leader in energy.

“We are here today because we want to show that an energy transition can take place in Richmond, and to make Richmond an example for the state, and for that matter for the world, on how you embark on that energy transition,” said Molina.

Congressmember John Garamendi examines a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric truck at Richmond Road to Zero Day at the Craneway Pavilion on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.
Bill Whitney, CEO of the Contra Costa Building Trades, speaks on the need for union labor to build the infrastructure required for hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia speaks at Richmond’s Road to Zero Day at the Craneway Pavilion on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.

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