The idea of having a hydrogen station at Cal State LA occurred in early 2000 to Dr. James Ettaro, of the Department of Technology. Cal State LA has an education program in Power, Energy and Transportation, and Dr. Ettaro believed the station could be a learning center to educate students and potential end-users. The station would create a plethora of new activities and encourage new strategies and programs related to a future power source for vehicles.

The first step in planning a new station was to have the support of Cal State LA and the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. As a new technology for vehicles, it was important to show that the investment would be worthwhile. Dr. Ettaro secured a letter from GM and Hyundai about the importance of hydrogen fuel as new technology. The first concept was for a $400,000 station, able to produce 20 kg of hydrogen per day. The station was eventually constructed to instead produce 60 kg per day.

An initial concern of the project was to guarantee that the design, manufacturing, construction, installation, and operations of the hydrogen station would be in accordance with all existing guidelines and regulations. Another important concern was how to obtain the funding required to make the project happen.

Related to the second concern, Dr. Ettaro started contacting companies and organizations that might invest in a new vehicle power source. A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program might have objectives of interest to various organizations, such as:

  • Reducing dependence on foreign oil

  • Promoting diverse and sustainable energy sources

  • Reducing the use of carbon fuels

  • Demonstration of fuel cell power system technologies​

In 2002, the Ahmanson Foundation became the first donor, investing $200,000 in the project. In 2003, Cal State LA embraced the vision of becoming the nation’s first university able to generate and dispense compressed hydrogen on-site. A management team was created by the Department of Technology to coordinate the hydrogen station plan.

With the first ideas now on paper, Quantum Technologies was contacted for fueling dispensing equipment, and Proton Energy Systems for an electrolyzer. The team also relied on the help of entities like the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the National Fuel Cell Education Program (NFCEP).

Hydrogen station plan drawing

In 2005, Dr. Ettaro tragically passed away, and the project stalled for several years. But during this time, his colleagues Dr. Virgil Seaman and Dr. David Blekhman pursued his vision. Then in 2008, the State of California showed an interest in having three hydrogen stations built. The requirement for the projects was that the stations should be able to perform 3 consecutive 5 kg, 10,000 psi fills in 45 minutes (10 min/max fill), and able to perform 3 consecutive 5 kg, 5,000 psi fills in 25 minutes (6 min/max fill).

The management team was restructured, and changes were made to the project in order to meet government requirements. The Cal State LA project was approved and a $2.7 million dollar grant was received from the California Air Resources Board to build the station. Cal State LA was believed to be in a strategic location for a hydrogen station because the University is only 6 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and near the 710 and 10 highways.