What to Know About Hydrogen Vehicles

Unless you drive a big rig or a locomotive, there probably isn’t a whole lot you need to know

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center of the U.S. Department of Energy, “In mid-2020, there were about 43 retail stations available nationwide.” Those are retail stations where there is hydrogen refueling. The sentence went on, “mostly concentrated in California.”

The good news is that the AFDC accumulated more data on the retail hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the U.S. And what’s more, there is actually an increase in the number of stations.

But there is still that concentration in California.

The total is 49 retail stations.

Forty-eight of those are in California.

There is one in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, over in the European Union there are more stations, although the numbers from the ACEA don’t indicate whether these are retail-only or whether the number also includes private refueling stations.

When it comes to the EU Germany is almost like California.

That is, there are 83 hydrogen refueling stations there, which accounts for 66.9% of the total 124 stations in all of the EU.

All of this goes to the point that you are not likely to be rolling around in a hydrogen-powered vehicle any time soon—even if you live in California.

The infrastructure for refueling simply isn’t there.

Notes Charlie Freese, “It is a difficult infrastructure play if you have a station and are refueling one vehicle per week.”

In a record published earlier this year for the Department of Energy about plans for 111 new hydrogen refueling stations in California, “Hydrogen Fueling Stations Cost,” “Capital equipment cost estimates for 111 new fueling stations. . .varied between approximately $1,200 and $3,000 per kilogram hydrogen dispensed per day.”

According to Freese, you can think of a kilogram of hydrogen as a gallon of gasoline.

This is a fuel cell. Actually a HYDROTEC fuel cell module that contains fuel cells. (Image: Steve Fecht for General Motors)

Yes, a very difficult infrastructure play.

But Freese is a proponent of hydrogen. He is the executive director of General Motors’ global fuel cell business which uses the name HYDROTEC.

HYDROTEC fuel cell modules have a variety of applications in transportation—applications that you might not expect.

That is, it has announced activities with:

  • Liebherr-Aerospace: Yes, fuel cells for aircraft
  • Wabtec: A producer of locomotives
  • Navistar: Two HYDROTEC fuel cell cubes will be used to power Navistar’s International RH Series

Freese points out that there are extensive opportunities in applications like these because there is a lot that is “known”:

Planes fly on specific routes and land at airports. Locomotive routes are literally on rails. And trucking goes from the depot to the point of delivery—and at the point of delivery (e.g., a warehouse or factory) there are likely to be pieces of material handling equipment—powered by hydrogen.

For individual drivers where one might go is not known. So there can be refueling stations that accumulate proverbial—if not actual—cobwebs.

But for commercial transport, there is the opportunity to have a calculated number of fuel users, which is an absolute advantage.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Freese talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke of SAE’s Automotive Engineering and me on a variety of hydrogen-related subjects.

In addition to which, John, Lindsay and I talk about a variety of other subjects, including VW’s commitment to EVs, the European Commission’s tentative plan to stop sale of new vehicles powered with internal combustion engines in the region by 2035, the right to repair, and more.

Which you can see right here.

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