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Can hydrogen fuel the future of energy, trucking in Washington?

Chad Magendanz might know a thing or two about lawmaking and policy — he’s a former state representative from Washington’s 5th District covering parts of King County. But his specialties don’t end there.

Magendanz earned a degree in electrical engineering, was a nuclear submarine officer, and then went to work in software. Which gives him a unique perspective on energy in Washington state, including clean alternatives that are being looked to as Washington looks to cut down on carbon.

One such alternative that is creating buzz around the nation, and in the state, is the potential for hydrogen-fueled trucks.

“There were some really big breakthroughs just in the last few weeksthey learned how to make hydrogen from seawater and they learned how to make hydrogen from cobalt,” Magendanz told KTTH’s Saul Spady. “So there’s creative new ways of looking at making hydrogen so that you don’t have to store it on the vehicle anymore — you can actually make it on demand.”

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Motor company Nikola is one company aiming to build the hydrogen fuel market. It plans to dot the Washington map with six of its hydrogen fueling facilities for semi-trucks.

The technology is simple — trucks use electric motors akin to what is found on the market today. They are fueled by hydrogen. Hydrogen can be made at the station, unlike gasoline which has to be trucked to gas stations.

“Part of the challenge with these gases, too, is that the energy density is nowhere near gasoline,” Magendanz said. “And so if you’ve got a truck like a semi, like Nikola here, you’ve already got to have larger tanks in order to store the same amount. You have to have more fuel in order to go the same distance, and then you have to look at how to pressurize it so that fits in that space. And those are some pretty significant challenges especially when you don’t have the infrastructure around so that you got regular places to refill. So you may need to go to three or four times four times as long between filling stations that you’re getting to the point where you’ve got a lot of space dedicated on the truck just to store fuel.”

Another consideration: Time. Saul notes that it takes about 25 minutes to refuel a diesel truck, and about 42 minutes to refuel a truck that runs on hydrogen. An all-electric truck takes about two and a half hours to fully charge.

It was something that Magendanz was aware of when he was a lawmaker a couple years ago. One of his bills, which passed, was dedicated to creating electric-vehicle infrastructure in Washington.

“And it’s still nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “Can you imagine doing that same investment for hydrogen and then potentially even natural gas? It’s not going to happen overnight, for sure.”

He relates that hydro energy — produced on rivers around Washington — was an investment the state made in the early 1900s.

“And we’re just reaping the benefits now,” he said. “We’re typically getting between 70 and 80 percent of our energy from hydro in the state and we’re really the perfect storm when it comes to rolling out electric vehicles because we’ve got the cheapest, greenest energy in the nation.”

Technically, he admits, Washington has the second cheapest, greenest energy. Louisiana is a little cheaper. New Hampshire is a little greener.

“But nobody has that particular combination like we do,” he said. “So if there was ever a place where rolling out alternative vehicles, like electric vehicles, makes sense it’s right here in the State of Washington.”

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