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Hydrogen Economy Getting a Boost in California and Germany

Hydrogen Economy Getting a Boost in California and Germany

| On 01, Oct 2013

H2 Filling StationHydrogen is considered by many to be the holy grail of renewable energy.  While that cup may not yet runneth over, Germany and California have ensured it will significantly runneth up.

Two separate programs collectively committed over half a billion dollars in funding to expand hydrogen refueling infrastructure, the lack of which is seen by many as the major hurdle in the broad adoption of hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

The California legislature passed a bill guaranteeing more than $2 billion for statewide clean vehicle and fuel initiatives through 2023, and earmarked some $20 million annually for the deployment of at least 100 hydrogen fuel cell filling stations across the state.  The goal is to spur a tipping point for hydrogen-based clean vehicle technology in California.

“If signed by the Governor, this legislation will create tens of thousands of jobs in California’s clean transportation tech industry and set us on a course to meet our clean air and climate goals,” said CALSTART President and CEO John Boesel.

Each refilling station is estimated to cost $1 million to build, compared to the estimated $100,000 per station for public fast-charging stations for standard electric vehicles.  By comparison, in 2012 there were 156,000 retail outlets in the US selling gasoline or diesel, with an estimated 20,000 of those in California.  Of the ten existing public hydrogen filling stations in the US, nine of them are already in California.

California’s program is indicative of the State’s commitment to sustainable job creation, and to fuel cells as a renewable energy technology.  California is also a first-mover in integrating fuel cell energy storage into their electric power grid.

Germany goes even bigger, and private.

Germany provides substantial governmental support for hydrogen FCEV technology, but Germany’s more aggressive rollout is being driven by private sector financing instead of public financing.

The program—called H2 Mobility—is led by Daimler Corporation and includes a consortium of petrochemical groups OMV, Shell and Total, as well as industrial gases producers Air Liquide and Linde.  The group is investing 350 million euros (around US$500 million) to expand the country’s network of hydrogen pumping stations from 15 to 400 by 2023.

The first 100 stations are meant to be operational within four years.

“By 2023 there should be more hydrogen filling stations than conventional ones on the autobahn (highway) today,” Daimler research and development chief Thomas Weber said in a statement.  The program purports to guarantee a hydrogen filling station every 56 miles of autobahn motorway.

Daimler is a leader in FCEVs and has about 200 of their version, Mercedes B-Class F-Cells, on the road today.

FCEV pundits claim that relatively few refueling stations are needed to achieve critical mass given the driving range of FCEVs, which far surpass that of standard electric cars, and on an equivalent-miles-per-gallon and driving-range basis can be competitive with petrol and diesel vehicles.  And new portable hydrogen refueling technologies from companies like ITM Power hope to increase the number of refueling sites and improve the economics of fueling infrastructure in the very near term.

Hydrogen fuel cells chemically convert hydrogen to electricity, emitting only water vapor as a waste product in the process.  Fuel cell technology has applications in both transportation and distributed power generation.

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