The California Air Resources Board trumpeted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's hydrogen highway program this week with back-to-back press briefings in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. However, the hydrogen highway—sold as a green dream that would break fossil-fuel dependence, eliminate greenhouse gases, and finally clean up the state's air—may be a long and winding road, according to panelists at the briefing sessions. "A day at the gas pump would pay for the first hundred hydrogen stations," said Jason Mark, Union of Concerned Scientists clean vehicles program director. He said California motorists spend more than $100 million a day for gasoline. The $6.5 million state budget for the program this fiscal year will buy 3 fueling stations and 14 vehicles. The governor's plan calls for 100 stations and 2,000 vehicles by 2010. The air board arranged the sessions to publicize Schwarzenegger's hydrogen highway program, just as his nominee to chair the air board, Cindy Tuck, was turned down by the Senate. Democrats and environmentalists questioned the former industry lobbyist's green credentials. Currently, California and the nation make almost all their hydrogen with natural gas and use most hydrogen to make gasoline and other industrial chemicals. While environmentalists and the renewable energy industry hope that the hydrogen highway program will lead to "green" hydrogen extracted with renewable power, their cause will be an uphill battle on the economics without more aggressive state policies. The most economical means of producing hydrogen is with natural gas, gasified coal, and nuclear power, said Joan Ogden, University of California at Davis Hydrogen Pathways Program codirector. All of these technologies can make hydrogen for about $2 per kilogram—the equivalent of about a gallon of gasoline. Centralized nuclear and coal-based hydrogen production projects are expected to be developed with federal assistance under the recently passed federal energy bill. Meanwhile, distributed renewable hydrogen production technologies are more expensive, she said. Wind and biomass hydrogen ranges between $6 and $7\/kilogram, and photovoltaic hydrogen costs about $10\/kilogram to make. Ogden noted that the cost of all the hydrogen production technologies is expected to fall and that the cost difference between green and so-called "black" hydrogen will narrow in the decade ahead. Because fuel cell cars are more energy efficient than gasoline vehicles, on a per-mile basis hydrogen could wind up being cheaper for motorists than gasoline, she added. The needed investment to make the transition will be enormous, however. Establishing a network of 11,000 hydrogen stations capable of serving 1 million hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars in California would cost about $12 billion. Converting the whole nation's fleet to hydrogen would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, she said. That may not be unreasonable, Ogden said. Between 1973 and 1999, the nation invested $1 trillion in oil and natural gas facilities in North America alone, according to a recent study by Argonne National Laboratory. "My primary fear is we may be denied the chance to transition to renewables" if the state doesn't make the investment now, said Jon Slangerup, Solar Integrated Technologies chief executive officer. "A massive oil and gas shock could drain the economy, leaving the state and nation unable to invest in the equipment needed to shift toward renewable power and green hydrogen," he said.