Hydrogen fuel cell cars face obstacle: few fueling stations (Update)

April 13, 2017 by Dee-Ann Durbin
The hydrogen fuel cell Genesis GV80 concept SUV is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Thursday, April 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Hydrogen fuel cell cars could one day challenge electric cars in the race for pollution-free roads—but only if more stations are built to fuel them.

Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have leased a few hundred fuel cell vehicles over the past three years, and expect to lease well over 1,000 this year. But for now, those leases are limited to California, which is home to most of the 34 public hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S.

Undaunted, automakers are investing heavily in the technology. General Motors recently supplied the U.S. Army with a fuel cell pickup, and GM and Honda are collaborating on a fuel cell system due out by 2020. Hyundai will introduce a longer-range fuel cell SUV next year.

"We've clearly left the science project stage and the technology is viable," said Charles Freese, who heads GM's fuel cell business.

Like pure electric cars, fuel cell cars run quietly and emission-free. But they have some big advantages. Fuel cell cars can be refueled as quickly as gasoline-powered cars. By contrast, it takes nine hours to fully recharge an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt using a 240-volt home charger. Fuel cells cars can also travel further between fill-ups.

The hydrogen fuel cell Genesis GV80 concept SUV is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Thursday, April 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

But getting those fill-ups presents the biggest obstacle. Fueling stations cost up to $2 million to build, so companies have been reluctant to build them unless more fuel cell cars are on the road. But automakers don't want to build cars that consumers can't fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy lists just 34 public hydrogen fueling stations in the country; all but three are in California. By comparison, the U.S. has 15,703 public electric charging stations, which can be installed for a fraction of the cost of hydrogen stations. There are also millions of garages where owners can plug their cars in overnight.

As a result, U.S. consumers bought nearly 80,000 electric cars last year, but just 1,082 fuel cell vehicles, according to WardsAuto.

That's why automakers will keep hedging their bets and offer electric vehicles alongside hydrogen ones.

The interior of the hydrogen fuel cell Genesis GV80 concept SUV is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Thursday, April 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Honda began leasing the 2017 Clarity fuel cell sedan earlier this year; about 100 are already on the road. At this week's New York Auto Show, the company also introduced electric and plug-in hybrid versions of the Clarity.

The plug-in hybrid can go 42 miles in electric mode before a small gas engine kicks in, Honda says. The all-electric Clarity can go 111 miles on a charge. Both will go on sale later this year.

"We think going forward the powertrain market is going to be very diverse," said Steve Center, vice president of the environmental business development office at American Honda.

Hyundai's Genesis luxury brand also blended technology with its GV80 SUV prototype, which was revealed in New York. The GV80 is a plug-in fuel cell vehicle, which means it would get power from stored electricity as well as hydrogen. It's not clear when—or if—the GV80 will go on sale.

The hybrid model of the Honda Clarity is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Fuel cell cars create electricity to power the battery and motor by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in the specially treated plates that combine to form the fuel cell stack.

The technology isn't new. GM introduced the first fuel cell vehicle, the Electrovan, in 1966. It only seated two; the back of the van housed large steel tanks of hydrogen and oxygen. It went about 150 miles between refuelings, and its hydrogen tank exploded on at least one occasion.

Advances in hydrogen storage, fuel cell stacks and batteries have allowed engineers to significantly shrink those components to fit neatly inside a sedan. Oxygen is now collected from the air through the grille, and hydrogen is stored in aluminum-lined, fuel tanks that automatically seal in an accident to prevent leaks. Reducing the amount of platinum used in the stack has made fuel cell cars less expensive.

Honda's new Clarity can go 366 miles between fuelings, the longest range in the industry.

The hybrid model of the Honda Clarity is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The Clarity leases for $369 per month for 36 months. That's more than the $354 monthly lease payment for the Chevrolet Bolt electric. But Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are all throwing in free hydrogen refueling. It costs between $13 and $16 per kilogram for hydrogen, or up to $80 to fill the Clarity's 5-kilogram capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Even with that perk, analysts think sales of fuel cell vehicles will be limited until more fueling stations are built. But carmakers will still invest in fuel cells. GM's Freese says there are many applications beyond cars, including unmanned, deep-sea vehicles or backup home power systems.

"One of the reasons global car companies do something like this is they want to have a finger in the pie. Should we suddenly have to shift over, they want to be able to do it," said Jack Nerad, an executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

The number of fueling stations could also grow quickly if automakers partner with governments and energy companies, as they have done in California. Earlier this year, 13 companies—including Shell and BMW—formed a council to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a transportation fuel.

The hybrid model of the Honda Clarity is shown during a media preview at the New York International Auto Show, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Heather McLaughlin of San Ramon, California, was one of the first customers to lease a 2017 Clarity. She says she prefers a fuel cell car over an electric because she can refuel it in minutes. And one fill-up a week more than covers her 50-mile daily commute to Benicia, where she serves as the city attorney.

She recently drove the Clarity to Southern California and found plenty of stations along her route.

"I like the innovation," said McLaughlin. "It helps if we can have more of these on the road."

Explore further: GM, Honda team up to develop advanced hydrogen fuel cells

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39 comments

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
Maybe they should look into making an affordable setup to create your own hydrogen as (general) energy storage for homes? You could refuel or - if you have solar panels - store excess energy.
I
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
It's a dead end technology. Compare the infrastructure requirements compared to an electric charging point
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
It's a dead end technology.

Not necessarily. Think of applications where range and weight considerations are important and where few central charging stations suffice:
- airlines
- shipping
- maybe even trucking

Hydrogen airplanes are just now being tested and there's nothing that says they couldn't be viable for national flights with reasonable seat numbers (international needs some more development)
http://edition.cn...l-plane/

Hydrogen container ships could also be viable. Even though hydrogen has less energy density than the heavy oil used currently you could build refueling points in the middle of the ocean that manufacture their own fuel (e.g. via floating solar panel installations)...thus potentially even increasing the number of containers a ship could carry at the expense of smaller fuel tanks.
humy
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2017
It's a dead end technology. Compare the infrastructure requirements compared to an electric charging point

I totally agree.
There may be some point to it for aircraft where the specific energy ( specific energy = unit energy stored per unit mass of fuel ) of the fuel is of critical importance especially for the longest flights, but for all other applications, there are ALWAYS far far better alternatives.
The idea of a 'hydrogen economy' is a deeply flawed strategy that will only get in the way of going all renewable.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
GREAT SOLUTION: HYPERLOOP Supply of H2 FUEL ! TESLA will Luv it !
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
I would have thought that liquid methane would be a better aircraft fuel than hydrogen
antigoracle
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2017
It's a dead end technology. Compare the infrastructure requirements compared to an electric charging point

Compare the infrastructure requirements for gasoline powered vehicles.
PPihkala
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
Hydrogen cars have at least these problems:
1) Price of hydrogen, which may be solved if this works:
http://thomasinst...bly.com/
2) Price of the fuel stack, where they are getting better
3) Price and amount of fueling stations, see 1)
4) Non-optimal storage of the hydrogen at car

If these hydrogen car issues can be solved, then they may be viable.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
I would have thought that liquid methane

Better in what sense? Energy density? Certainly. Release of CO2? Not so much.
MR166
1 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2017
"Better in what sense? Energy density? Certainly. Release of CO2? Not so much."

Until we produce and store enough cheap renewable energy to eliminate the use of natural gas to generate electricity powering a vehicle from H2 will always release more CO2 than just using natural gas to power it. But let's face it, 20 years of temperature pause brings into question the whole concept of increasing CO2 levels changing the earths temperature.
MR166
1 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2017
Also there is absolutely no real proof that a moderate increase in temperatures is a bad thing for most people. Whereas, there is plenty of proof that the earths reoccurring cold periods are real killers. Many feel that the upcoming solar minimum will produce such a cold period for the next 30-60 years.
cortezz
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
Until we produce and store enough cheap renewable energy to eliminate the use of natural gas to generate electricity powering a vehicle from H2 will always release more CO2 than just using natural gas to power it. But let's face it, 20 years of temperature pause brings into question the whole concept of increasing CO2 levels changing the earths temperature.

Not always. There are already production techniques available which do not produce CO2. I believe in fuel cells. Maybe not in cars but in general they can be utilized in so many places.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
"Not always. There are already production techniques available which do not produce CO2."

Well just as long as you use grid electricity or electricity that could be fed into the grid, you will always burn more fossil to make up the difference.

Now if you do have a surplus of renewables it makes sense to store that somehow and H2 is a viable candidate. But H2 powered autos still would not make sense due to the high costs involved. The costs would be much lower if the stored H2 was used by a stationary plant.
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2017
What really makes me mad is that our military is wasting taxpayer money on H2 powered vehicles. We have planes that cannot fly due to lack of funds but have the money for that type of social feel good project.
humy
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2017
It's a dead end technology. Compare the infrastructure requirements compared to an electric charging point

Compare the infrastructure requirements for gasoline powered vehicles.

Why should we? -it is exactly that which we need to replace.
Benni
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
Electric power vehicles have 1/3 the maintenance costs of internal combustion engines. Take a look at that first pic, it is an ICE.

Consumer sentiment will win this battle, and they will go for the technology that reduces maintenance time & costs.

An EV battery will last for ten years & the electric motor does not require 5k mile oil changes costing $100 everytime you do it, this on top of the wasted time you spend sitting around in a waiting room at some dealership when you could spend that time doing other more productive things.
MR166
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
"Why should we? -it is exactly that which we need to replace."

Just because some want to eliminate fossil powered transportation it does not mean that H2 is a viable alternative. My guess is that electric with swappable battery packs or some sort of hydrocarbon fuel that is produced by renewable power makes more economic sense.
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
The infrastructure for electric vehicles will be car parks, not gas stations
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2017
Compare the infrastructure requirements for gasoline powered vehicles.


Why should we? -it is exactly that which we need to replace.

Consider that we had no problem investing in setting up the fueling infrastructure for cars (and no - those weren't paid fully by companies. There was - and is - a multitude of tax breaks and subsidies in place to make these happen)

So if we had no problem subsidizing refineries, fuel distribution and setting up of gas stations - why should we have a problem with doing that for a cleaner alternative now?

The infrastructure for electric vehicles will be car parks, not gas stations

Even better: A lot of the infrastructure will be home charging stations - which will be paid for by individuals.
cortezz
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2017
Well just as long as you use grid electricity or electricity that could be fed into the grid, you will always burn more fossil to make up the difference.

What really makes me mad is that our military is wasting taxpayer money on H2 powered vehicles. We have planes that cannot fly due to lack of funds but have the money for that type of social feel good project.

How I am producing CO2 if I use, lets say, hydropower to produce H2?

Military vehicles can be a good application for fuel cells. Lots of constant power needed, long operating hours, noise and heat ain't problems. This is excatly why they are tested in trucks: http://www.fch.eu...ruck-apu
Mark Thomas
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
Many years ago I thought fuel cells would become the most common vehicle power plant, with battery power being used in niches. The opposite now appears to be true.
saintmess
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
Check out "Bob Lazar's Hydrogen Car" in youtube
betterexists
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
GREAT SOLUTION: HYPERLOOP Supply of H2 FUEL ! TESLA will Luv it !

Rather Than TRANSPORTING People, Supply H2 Fuel BARRELS Rightaway to CITIES Wherever it is Exhausted using HYPERLOOP! 1 Fuel Location, Several Cities using The H2 Supplies, WoW! TESLA Sure WILL LUV IT !
s_crane2
not rated yet Apr 14, 2017
What is the difference between refueling an LPG powered vehicle to the refueling of an H2 powered one? Surely the storage & pump/car interface would be similar?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2017
Many years ago I thought fuel cells would become the most common vehicle power plant, with battery power being used in niches. The opposite now appears to be true.

Give it a little time...:-)
Eikka
not rated yet Apr 15, 2017
How I am producing CO2 if I use, lets say, hydropower to produce H2?


There's not enough hydropower for everyone.

Consider that we had no problem investing in setting up the fueling infrastructure for cars


The refueling infrastructure for a regular car is a barrel and a hand pump. Anything up from there is convenience. That's also the main point of it - no special containers, no special delivery methods - it's just a fluid that remains a fluid quite happily in a simple steel canister.

Better in what sense? Energy density? Certainly. Release of CO2? Not so much.


Methane is one of the easiest biofuels to make.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2017
What is the difference between refueling an LPG powered vehicle to the refueling of an H2 powered one? Surely the storage & pump/car interface would be similar?


LPG remains a liquid at elevated temperatures under moderate pressure (~12 Bars @ 40C) , while H2 doesn't, so the materials and safety requirements for LPG distribution are orders of magnitude easier. Hydrogen diffuses into metals under pressure, making them brittle, so ordinary steel cannot be used in the plumbing.

H2 is delivered as a compressed gas instead of a liquid, at very high pressure between 400-800 Bar. The point of the high pressure is that hydrogen has extremely low energy density, and even at 800 bars it delivers just 2 kWh per liter as compared to 8.7 kWh/L with gasoline, and 7.5 kWh/L for LPG. Methane compressed to the same pressure would deliver 4x the energy.

Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2017
Hydrogen also diffuses rapidly in air when released, and loses its buyoancy when mixed with air. It has the widest explosive range of all the fuels, the lowest ignition energy, and it burns with an invisible flame.

It's a horrible fuel, and it's never going to be practical and safe.
MR166
not rated yet Apr 15, 2017
"Military vehicles can be a good application for fuel cells. Lots of constant power needed, long operating hours, noise and heat ain't problems. This is excatly why they are tested in trucks: http://www.fch.eu...ruck-apu"

Where exactly are you going to find H2 on the battle field? Yes there are other types of fuel cells that utilize better fuels but one has to factor in cost and start up time. These cells must reach operating temperature of about 500C before they produce power.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2017
Right now gasoline and diesel are delivered in tankers that fill up underground tanks at stations. These stationary tanks represent the bulk of the cost of a station.

So why not have H2 tankers that can refuel vehicles directly? Vacant lots and old gas stations can be quickly converted to tanker parking lots. More tankers can arrive during heavy traffic periods.

Small tankers could even deliver fuel directly to vehicles in parking lots at work or at night in apartment complexes.

Maybe the govt regs that prevent this need to be changed.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Apr 15, 2017
Where exactly are you going to find H2 on the battle field?
@mr166
the military takes it with them - it's a specialised position/job
so it's part of the supply chain
http://www.quarte...2006.pdf

.

.

So why not have H2 tankers that can refuel vehicles directly?
@Otto
mostly because of the points Eikka made above

if they test it for feasibility anywhere, it'll be in the military though
the USAF ran vehicles on JP-4 to save costs, especially when deploying as it was easier and cheaper than shipping diesel along with JP fuels for flight operations
s_crane2
not rated yet Apr 15, 2017
I see Iceland is converting to H2 & doesn't seem to be having any problems. They have plenty of excess renewable energy so the conversion to H2 is cheap but they are also installing lots of refueling stations - what are the reasons we can't do it here? Surely we can use Iceland's experience to model our own refueling logistics?
An overnight mobile refueling service initiated by a phone app sounds easy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2017
@Otto
mostly because of the points Eikka made above
I didnt see anything in eikkas post(s) that would prevent H2 from being dispensed from above ground tankers vs from inground tanks.

"For metal piping at pressures up to 7,000 psi (48 MPa), high-purity stainless steel piping with a maximum hardness of 80 HRB is preferred."

Less hardware, less transfer, simpler system, flexibility, quick setup, less time in storage.

This looks close
http://www.powert...tations/

Modular/portable
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2017
I didnt see anything in eikkas post(s) that would prevent H2 from being dispensed from above ground tankers vs from inground tanks
@otto
think Hindenburg
Hydrogen also diffuses rapidly in air when released, and loses its buyoancy when mixed with air. It has the widest explosive range of all the fuels, the lowest ignition energy, and it burns with an invisible flame.

It's a horrible fuel, and it's never going to be practical and safe.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2017
So why does storing it inground rather than pumping it directly from tankers make this worse? H2 leaks would make it to the surface just as fast, and fixing them much slower.

The manufacturer makes and stores it above ground in bulk. Its transported above ground. Its pumped into vehicles which use it above ground.

I dont see why it needs to be put into separate inground tanks at stations when it could be transferred directly from tanker to vehicle, thereby saving one transfer and one chance to leak, and making these stations proliferate much faster and more cheaply.

The only thing i can think of is obsolete govt regulations.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2017
"Benefits of direct burial of hydrogen storage tanks are as follows [1]:
Decreased land usage/footprint;
Elimination of some potential hazards, such vandalism, fire, vehicle impact;
Inherent spill containment."

And

"Whilst production, handling and storage of compressed hydrogen in above ground tanks are mature technologies, underground storage does not appear to be an established technology."

Oh well here you go

"Hydrogen is usually stored in above ground storage modules (cylinders) and there are few applications of underground - both gas and liquid - hydrogen storage vessels.
The Hornchurch refuelling station in London (BP, Linde) is the first in the UK and Europe to use underground storage of liquid hydrogen for transportation purposes"
Cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2017
But

"Codes & Standards. Applicable codes and standards for hydrogen storage systems and interface technologies, which will facilitate implementation/commercialization and assure safety and public acceptance, have not yet been established."

And finally

"The main constraints deterring manufactures in installing underground hydrogen storage facilities are actually similar to those encountered in underground gas storage installations: higher corrosion risks, more difficult leak detection, more complex maintenance and operation procedures, higher cost of installation."
https://www.ika.r...ons.html

-So it seems that the industry wants inground tanks in order to assuage public fears but neither the tech nor the codes&standards have been adequately developed to allow it.

IOW above-ground direct-tanker dispensing would indeed be easier, cheaper, and safer but the industry itself is dragging its feet.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2017
IOW above-ground direct-tanker dispensing would indeed be easier, cheaper, and safer but the industry itself is dragging its feet
@otto
well... i agree that it would be better above ground (that wasn't my point)

i don't agree it's very safe to use as a common fuel (hence the Hindenburg reference)

my point was about overall safety, not specific to above ground vrs below ground

considering most people are too f*cking lazy around just regular gasoline causing multiple accidents yearly...

sorry that i didn't make that more clear... i thought it was
meh
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 17, 2017
IOW above-ground direct-tanker dispensing would indeed be easier, cheaper, and safer but the industry itself is dragging its feet
@otto
well... i agree that it would be better above ground (that wasn't my point)

i don't agree it's very safe to use as a common fuel (hence the Hindenburg reference)

my point was about overall safety, not specific to above ground vrs below ground

considering most people are too f*cking lazy around just regular gasoline causing multiple accidents yearly...

sorry that i didn't make that more clear... i thought it was
meh
Uh huh. I detect waffling.

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