The Expansion And Challenges Of Hydrogen Fueling Stations

"What came first, the chicken or the egg?" is a well-known causality dilemma in which many argue the order of occurrence between cause and effect. While Aristotle and other great philosophers agonized over this simple question and its relation to human existence, the same discussion rings true today in many forms of business, especially hydrogen fuel technologies for consumers.

When it comes to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), it is quite obvious to state the technology has not yet reached mass commercial recognition. The Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, Honda Clarity, and other FCVs are either available or soon to be available by major auto manufacturers, the simple truth is that both the supply and demand need to grow to consider these products a success.

One of the arguments faced by many working in the hydrogen fuel cell automotive space is how to support these vehicles from an infrastructure standpoint. Consider your gasoline powered car. Would you still drive it if there weren't gas stations on every corner available to fill your vehicle at a moment's notice? Most likely not, because what would you do with a car that can't turn on and take you to your next destination? This is the conundrum experienced in the hydrogen automotive space.

Let's use California as an example. Currently, there are close to 50 hydrogen fueling stations either open or in development in the Golden State. As there were less than 20 only two years ago, this is an encouraging sign for consumers driving hydrogen FCVs. For purposes of this conversation, "infrastructure" refers to availability for hydrogen FCV drivers to fuel up.

Unfortunately, many of these drivers are faced with constant challenges despite the increased availability of these stations. The media took note last year when FCV drivers began to complain about the lack of availability of hydrogen at the stations, indicating many were closed during normal business hours, and were overall unreliable.

Further, if you take a closer look at the map, you'll notice that most of these are crowded in certain metropolitan areas, namely the Bay area and Los Angeles.

With efforts to now install hydrogen fueling stations in Washington D.C., as well as fueling stations to support a seven-bus fleet in Ohio, one could say it is a pivotal moment for the hydrogen industry to determine an infrastructure that facilitates consumer adoption. To this effect, fueling stations need to be open, staffed, and consistently provide hydrogen fuel to drivers seeking to fuel up and enjoy the benefits of technology that facilitates 300+ mile driving without the need for a fill-up.

So what comes first, the chicken (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) or the egg (the infrastructure to support their adoption)? Sure, drivers need to be able to fill up their new car, but at the same time, you cannot expect a hydrogen fueling station every mile or less, much like gasoline stations.

The truth, as hypothesized by ancient philosophers, is that they must arrive at the same time. The auto manufacturers have held up their end of the bargain, consistently rolling out new models and reaching commercialization in other countries in addition to California drivers. Now, with hydrogen fueling stations becoming more visible on the highway horizon, we may be on the cusp of something great.

The availability of hydrogen fuel is an important aspect as well. Hydrogen can be costly to ship, so more of these stations are seeking a means of producing and storing hydrogen fuel at or near the point of distribution, such as a fueling station. Some of these technologies require natural gas, a fossil fuel, to produce hydrogen, while others utilize a completely renewable means to do so.

As these hydrogen producing technologies continue to advance at an exciting rate, they will join the auto manufacturers and government supported fueling station rollouts as part of a group effort to provide reliable and cost efficient fueling solutions. This will fuel consumer demand, further positioning hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the ultimate resource to ween consumers from gasoline powered vehicles.