Philadelphia Eagles unveil ‘kelly green’ hydrogen fueling station

A new hydrogen fueling station at the Linc uses water and solar power to produce clean hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

The PDC Machines company demonstrated how to refuel their hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on September 22, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The PDC Machines company demonstrated how to refuel their hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on September 22, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Just behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field sits a big metal box, with a hose similar to a gas pump.

But inside the box, there are no dirty fossil fuels. Instead, it’s simply water.

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Energy from the Linc’s solar panels split those water molecules into two elements – oxygen and hydrogen. This “green” hydrogen, created using clean energy, can power fuel-cell vehicles.

“I consider this to be ‘kelly green’ hydrogen,” joked Governor Josh Shapiro at a ribbon-cutting event for the fueling station Friday. “That’s the official, technical term.”

The Eagles plan to eventually use the hydrogen to fuel as many vehicles and pieces of equipment used at the South Philly stadium as possible. The team says it will start by replacing its traditional forklifts with fuel cell versions, then move on to golf carts and passenger vehicles.

The more than 10,000 solar panels on the stadium currently provide around 40% of its power needs. The team purchases renewable energy credits to offset the rest of the stadium’s energy use — and promises to continue doing this, even as the hydrogen fueling station uses power from the solar panels.

Solar panels on Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, help power the hydrogen refueling station. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“This is another step on our sustainability journey, as we continually strive to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Eagles president Don Smolenski.

Not all hydrogen is as clean as what will be produced at the Linc. Most hydrogen produced today is known as “gray hydrogen” and is made using natural gas, which creates planet-warming carbon emissions.

Kareem Afzal, executive chairman at PDC Machines, the Montgomery County-based company that built the fueling station, sees it as a “demonstration project.” He hopes it inspires similar projects at other stadiums and beyond.

“Our unit here… is really meant [to] spur on others to take on much broader scale operations,” he said.

PDC Machines Executive Chairman Kareem Afzal (right) explains the company’s hydrogen refueling technology to Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro (left) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on September 22, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Using electricity to produce hydrogen for a fuel cell vehicle can be less efficient than using it to power a battery electric vehicle. But hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have their benefits — perhaps the biggest being a faster refueling time than battery-powered EVs. 

“The forklift operator goes in [to refuel] — two, three minutes — and he goes off, continuing his job,” PDC Machines CEO Marco Caccavale said.

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Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro (left) Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (center) and Pa. state Senator Sharif Street were walked through the fueling process of the Philadelphia Eagle’s Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen-powered vehicle, at Lincoln Financial Field on September 22, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Biden administration wants to kickstart the production of clean hydrogen at scale to power the most energy-intensive and hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the U.S. economy, including heavy-duty transportation, chemical production, and industry.

The Department of Energy plans to announce funding for regional “hydrogen hubs” across the country this fall. Pennsylvania is vying to win some of that money.

“We know that if we invest more in renewables, we’ll be able to create more jobs and economic opportunities here in our commonwealth,” Shapiro said. “I want Pennsylvania to be the leader on [clean, renewable energy,] especially around hydrogen.”

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