'Hydrogen highway' proposed for Illinois

April 12, 2004


When America was a series of dirt roads, model concrete highways only a mile long were created to demonstrate the future potential of the automobile with decent roads.

The Illinois Coalition, city of Chicago, state of Illinois and the private sector are joining forces as the Illinois 2 H2 Partnership. They propose a model "hydrogen highway" along I-90 from the Indiana border to the Wisconsin line. No road construction is involved, just the creation of hydrogen-fuel filling stations that would enable alternative-powered vehicles to travel the route.

As gasoline prices climb past $2 a gallon, it's a smart move. With Illinois' combination of raw materials, R&D and political clout, our state has the potential for economic gain.

"It's very critical now with what's going on with prices," says Sam Skinner, chairman of the Illinois Coalition. Skinner, retired CEO of USFreightways, is a former White House chief of staff and secretary of transportation.

Station demonstration

Dubbed "The Hydrogen Highway: Illinois' Path to a Sustainable Economy and Environment," Skinner proposes a "corridor of hydrogen energy demonstration projects situated around I-90." Depending on location, the price tag is "between $600,000 and $2 million per station," Skinner says. While the cost is significant, the benefit of demonstrating hydrogen-fuel viability will be greater. The long-term geo-political benefits of weaning America from foreign oil are immeasurable.

"We're going to have alternative fuels," Skinner says. "It's just a matter of when."

There is an environmental benefit. "Chicago was the first city to have hydrogen-fueled buses," says Sadhu Johnston, assistant to Mayor Daley for green initiatives. "We're interested in having the first complete hydrogen highway."

Johnston sees hydrogen fuel cells as one additional tool to assure clean air. "We've planted over 400,000 trees. We've displaced the pollution of 30,000 cars. Hydrogen fuels are another piece of the puzzle," he says. "There are some good economic development opportunities. We'd like to see Chicago be a leader in green technology," he adds.

"You hook up a nozzle and fill up your vehicle," says James Miller, manager of Argonne's Electrochemical Technology Program. "These things perform."

Adds Skinner, "We think we have a practical plan."

Considering the cost of my last fill-up, I hope Sam's right.

MusicNow completes sale

"The deal came up quickly," says Chris Gladwin, founder of Chicago-based MusicNow, which provides a technology platform for consumers and companies to download music. Gladwin reports he's closed the sale of MusicNow to Circuit City.

Gladwin is an unsung local tech hero. His company paved the way for legal, on-line music services. "MusicNow created the digital service license," Gladwin says. "We were the first to begin developing and licensing this capability with major music companies."

"MusicNow is one of Chicago's real success stories," says David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. "As one of the earliest tenants of the Hub, Mayor Daley's first major technology development initiative, Chris demonstrated his commitment to the city's technology community."

Kellogg biotech conference

Emily Sitrin and Andrew Obenshain, two second-year Kellogg MBA candidates, are cooking up a biotech conference this Friday and Saturday. They'll showcase approaches to transform R&D into commercial success.

Speakers include Ron Dollens, CEO, Guidant Corp.; Thomas Bumol, vice president biotech discovery research, Eli Lilly; G. Steven Burrill, CEO, Burrill & Co., and Norbert Reidel, chief scientific officer, Baxter International. A solid lineup for a student-led effort.

After graduation, Sitrin joins Pfizer, and Obenshain joins Merck.


Susan Reynolds, vice president, partner marketing Americas for Hewlett-Packard, speaks Thursday at the Business Marketing Association. ... Former British Telecom chief technologist Peter Cochrane speaks today at IIT. Cochrane predicted the mobile phone and the text messaging phenomena. ... Jeff Coney, 51, director, Northwestern ITEC, joins B2P Commerce as president and COO.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners