TRENTON — For nearly three and a half hours Thursday, two Assembly committees heard testimony on how hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are used in cars, equipment and more.

It was more about the economy than the science.

“There are challenges with the technology, but there are also massive advantages of it. And I think the charge of these committees is going to be what do we do to make sure we put public policies in place so that New Jersey is really at the forefront of leading an innovation charge,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex. “Because this leads to not just new types of vehicles but to jobs. And good jobs.”

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, said hydrogen fuel cells are already coming into New Jersey for commercial use and wants to encourage its expansion into cars.

“And also, at some point in time, hydrogen production in this state. If we could find a way to produce hydrogen in this state, that would be a major industry sector that would go beyond our borders.”

So far, just three hydrogen fueling stations are in development in the state, all of them through private funds.

“We believe the northeastern states, especially New Jersey, are well-positioned to lead in the expansion of clean energy technologies to the East Coast,” said Edmund Young, a fuel cell consultant for Toyota.

Peg Hanna, acting assistant director for air monitoring and mobile sources for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said nearly $11 million from the state’s $72.2 million of a legal settlement with Volkswagen about emissions system tampering will be spent on infrastructure for electric and hydrogen fueling.

Hanna said cutting down on vehicle emissions is the state’s big challenge in meeting 2050 climate-change goals – that in fact, they’re still rising.

“So even though the last couple years have seen an increase in fuel efficiency standards, that more efficient vehicle has been offset by an increase in vehicle miles traveled. So people are driving more,” Hanna said.

Steve Center, vice president of connected and environmental business development for American Honda, urged lawmakers not to support any single alternative fuel of the future. He said the state can encourage consumers by coming up with creative incentives.

“There’s economic things. You could have registration waivers. You could have parking preferences,” Center said. “There’s all kinds of things that people want.”

Princeton University chemistry professor Andrew Bocarsly said the state can help by supporting infrastructure needed to generate hydrogen from a non-fossil fuel source, research into finding less expensive materials for fuel cells and college faculty recruiting efforts.

“If you want to do this in New Jersey, you need a population of highly trained scientists and engineers that are going to develop these systems,” Bocarsly said. “And this is something I really think that the state could do something about, and that is supporting programs at the institutions of higher education in this state that would bring that population of people here and keep them here.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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