Fuel cell vehicles need more infrastructure


Posted by Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling

If hydrogen fuel cell cars are to become an actual reality on the roads of the United States, one of the places they are most likely to first take off in is California.



With a projected 2015 mass production date by several auto manufacturers, the question becomes: will the Golden State be ready with refueling stations for those driving these cars? That’s what a recent report from the California Fuel Cell Partnership aims to find out.

In this report, according to Fuel Cell Today, the biggest obstacle facing the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) market in California is the lack of a critical mass of hydrogen fueling stations. Limited infrastructure equals very few people wanting to buy the cars, regardless of range, right? 



To counter this situation stakeholders from industry, academia, non-governmental organizations and government put their heads together to determine what number of stations, and where, should be in place by the beginning of 2016 to help promote the growth of this developing market segment of green cars.

The magic bullet number of strategically placed stations, developed by the previously mentioned braintrust meet up, is 68. Most of these stations will need to be clustered in five specific regions of the state where early adopters are expected to be driving the FCEVs. These regions include Santa Monica/West Los Angeles; coastal Southern Orange County; Torrance with nearby cities; Berkeley and the San Francisco South Bay area.

Additionally, it was determined, other stations will be needed to connect these clusters into a regional network. Some stations in these clusters already exist, and more are planned, but the majority will still have to be built.

It is understood by those involved in developing this framework that the first stations will be not used at their fullest potential and likely will lose money in the early years until vehicle sales increase to enough critical mass to help cover costs associated with this infrastructure build out. Two different models proposed to help get the estimated funding for the early days of FCEV fueling stations suggest costs will run somewhere between $65 and $67 million.

As of June 2012, eight different automakers were testing FCEVs in California, as well as three transit agencies making use of FCEV buses. Two of the leaders of developing these types of vehicles for consumers at the moment look to be Hyundai and Toyota, who are both aiming for 2015 deployments in larger numbers beyond current test fleets.

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling