ROCHESTER, NY - The U.S.'s first Hydrogen Village —designed to demonstrate the feasibility of switching from fossil fuels to cleaner-burning hydrogen — has broken ground in the Rochester, N.Y., metropolitan area under the auspices of the U.S. Green Building Council, according to

The council recently certified Rochester's plan to become the leader in community-supported green technologies, green buildings, and the infrastructure necessary to become the first green U.S. city.

Kicking off the initiative next month will be General Motors' Project Driveway, under which GM will provide 100 fuel-cell-powered vehicles to selected consumers around the country. Project Driveway is a follow-on to the demonstration in May of the world's first fuel-cell-powered automobiles to travel the the 300-mile range that consumers demand of their vehicles

"Consumers have proven over and over again that they will not buy automobiles that cannot travel at least 300 miles on a single refueling," said Jim Senall, the Greater Rochester Enterprise's managing director for business development. "Now with that obstacle overcome by GM, it becomes a matter of establishing the infrastructure to support them—basically, refueling stations that upgrade the traditional gasoline stations into refueling depots for hydrogen-powered vehicles."

According to Senall, the market for green energy sources—hydrogen-powered vehicles, solar cells, wind turbines and biofuels—is almost $40 billion today and will exceed $167 billion by 2015. The Greater Rochester Enterprise was founded five years ago to reap the benefits of that growth. The government- and industry-funded organization—which is attracting new companies and helping existing companies in the area to convert from existing business models to green ones—has a charter that includes plans to establish an exemplary Hydrogen Village consisting of hydrogen production, distribution, and refueling centers in downtown Rochester.

The plan calls for harnessing a waterfall in downtown Rochester to generate hydrogen fuel via electrolysis to power public buses using a combination of fuel cells and internal combustion hydrogen engines. The first four of the buses will be on the road by the end of the year. One will be powered by fuel cells, and three will use hydrogen in converted internal-combustion engines.

Hydrogen refueling stations are already being constructed downtown to route the electrolysis-produced hydrogen into pressurized tanks. Vehicles will pull up to the pump, as they would at a traditional gas station, and will receive pressurized hydrogen in a manner similar to the way propane tanks are refilled today.

Besides powering vehicles, the Hydrogen Village will provide pressurized hydrogen in pipelines routed underground to power buildings in the downtown area by substituting hydrogen for natural gas.

GM and Delphi both have fuel-cell development centers in Rochester, and the area also hosts significant solar-cell and wind-turbine manufacturers. The Greater Rochester Enterprise plans to promote the conversion of existing automobile parts operations to manufacturing plants for wind-turbine components, to alleviate the current three-year backlog in essential components that is delaying deployment of wind power worldwide, according to Senall.