Skip to content

Can Hydrogen Fueling Stations Be Far Behind?

April 9, 2014

hydroge fuel stationThis piece is a sequel to, “Are Hydrogen Fuel Cells Vehicles Dead on Arrival?” What follows is a deeper look at the infrastructure, specifically hydrogen fueling stations, needed to support fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV).

“Though hydrogen fuel cells have become much smaller, cheaper, and infinitely more efficient over the years, the technology has remained stuck on a road to nowhere. “With electric car sales not living up to expectations, the carmakers are looking for a hedge to meet the standards in California, and hydrogen provides that,” says Kevin See, a senior analyst at Lux research. But the biggest challenge facing fuel-cell cars today is the same as it’s always been — a lack of infrastructure. Only a handful of hydrogen filling stations exist in the U.S.,” according to Brian Dumaine reporting for CNN Money. What exists is a Catch 22 situation – need hydrogen cars to justify building fueling stations, but you need hydrogen fueling stations to justly purchasing fuel cell electric vehicles.

“Hydrogen-powered electric vehicles represent the next generation of electric vehicle technology,” said John Krafcik, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hyundai Motor America, Figure 1.

“The technology is here and automakers are ready,” said Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP). “Before they can sell or lease fuel cell electric vehicles, a much larger fueling infrastructure must be in place.”

The prospect of alternative fueled vehicles running on hydrogen hit roadblock after roadblock ever since former U.S. Senator Masayuki Matsunaga’s vision of a hydrogen economy led to passage of the Hydrogen Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1990. One only has look back to 2009 when former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Dr. Steven Chu announced that the government would cut research into FCEVs. Biofuels and batteries, he said, are “a much better place to put our money.” Nature reports, “The move came as a relief to the many critics of hydrogen vehicles, including some environmentalists who had come to see Bush’s hydrogen initiative as a cynical ploy to maintain the petrol-based status quo by focusing on an unattainable technology.”

The proposed budget cuts served only to galvanize supporters of hydrogen fuel vehicles and car manufacturers investing in biofuels and batteries. They feel hydrogen fuel cells have a long-term potential and are a way to satisfy stringent zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates. Ultimately, Congress voted to override Chu and restore funds for hydrogen research, development, demonstration and deployment.

The push by the federal government to support commercialization of ZEVs turned towards lithium-ion battery technology. In many ways this was a logical move with the success of lithium-ion batteries in the consumer and computer electronics industries. Lithium-ion technology “is one of the most popular types of rechargeable battery for portable electronics, with one of the best energy densities, no memory effect, and a slow loss of charge when not in use; even modest increases in a battery’s energy-density rating — a measure of the amount of energy that can be delivered for a given weight — are important advances,” according to Lithium Air Industries, LLC.

Nevertheless, lithium-ion batteries do present a series of issues in terms or range anxiety (fear of being stranded with a dead battery), performance in cold and warm climates, and life expectancy. Tesla seems to have worked around the anxiety issue with the addition of a free Supercharger. Tesla claims “Superchargers allow Model S owners to travel for free between cities along well-traveled highways in North America and Europe. Superchargers provide half a charge in as little as 20 minutes and are strategically placed to allow owners to drive from station to station with minimal stops.” See Lithium Air Industry’s website for specific disadvantages with lithium-ion technology.

Yet interest in a hydrogen economy and hydrogen fueled vehicles remains mostly under the radar and on life support. Pundits see hydrogen as the only long-term solution to achieve energy independents and a zero-emission transportation industry. Critics still view hydrogen development wasteful government spending and another Solyndra.

Figure 1: Honda 2015 FCEV Concept Car

Honda FCEV 2015

The challenges with FCEVs seem formidable and the solution untenable, Figure 2. Converting skeptical customers into buyers depends on affordable and reliable fuel cells, competitively priced hydrogen fuel and readily accessible fueling stations. But, like any emerging technology, fuel cell vehicles, the next innovation in green technology, and hydrogen fueling stations have presented a chicken and egg dilemma: Which comes first? In this classic war of wits, it’s the fueling station.

Figure 2: Hydrogen Vehicle Challenges

The hydrogen vehicle fueling and infrastructure challengeSource: Nature

Building a robust infrastructure for hydrogen transport, distribution and delivery to thousands of fueling stations seems an impossible task. Because hydrogen is the smallest molecule there is, it possesses unique properties that requires expensive pipeline materials and compressor designs. In conjunction with its low energy density, a hydrogen network is capital intensive.

However, over the last decade, advancements in fuel cell technology and hydrogen production have made a positive impact on the marketability of FCEV. The price of hydrogen fuel cells has declined steadily since 2002, and the range and reliability have increased. Fuel cell costs are moving closer to DOE’s target of $30 per kW at which point they will be cost‐competitive in light‐duty vehicles.

Brian Dumaine reports in the September 2, 2013 issue of Fortune, “Right now hydrogen is two to three times as expensive as gasoline on a per-gallon-equivalent basis. But because fuel cells are twice as efficient as gasoline engines, hydrogen fuel is only slightly more expensive. The DOE report concluded that, at scale, hydrogen could quickly cost less than gas.”

“My, at the pump price of hydrogen is about $15.00 per kg; about 2-1/2 times that of gasoline. Depending on who it comes from and how the hydrogen is generated, my cost from the supplier could range anywhere from $4.00 per kg if produced from natural gas by steam reforming to $18.00 if produced from water by electrolysis,” said Daniel Poppe, vice president, Hydrogen Frontier Inc.

Hydrogen can be generated at a central facility or on-site by a number of production methods.

Current Hydrogen Production Methods:

  • Steam Methane Reforming – High-temperature steam is combined with methane in the presence of a catalyst to produce hydrogen. This is the most common and least-expensive method of production in use today, Figure 2.
  • Electrolysis – An electric current is used to “split” water into hydrogen and oxygen.
  • Gasification – Heat is applied to coal or biomass in a controlled oxygen environment to produce a gas that is further separated using steam to produce hydrogen.

Hydrogen Production Methods In The Research And Development Stage:

  • Renewable Liquid Reforming – Ethanol or biodiesel derived from biomass reacts with steam to produce hydrogen.
  • Nuclear High-Temperature Electrolysis – Heat from a nuclear reactor is used to improve the efficiency of electrolysis, again splitting water to make hydrogen.
  • High-Temperature Thermochemical Water-Splitting – Solar concentrators are used to split water.
  • Photobiological Microbes – Certain microbes produce hydrogen as part of their metabolic processes. Artificial systems can encourage these organisms to produce hydrogen through the use of semiconductors and sunlight, improving their natural metabolic processes.
  • Photoelectrochemical Systems -These use semiconductors and sunlight directly to make hydrogen from water.

Electrolysis of water can use low-carbon energy sources including renewables to make hydrogen generation essentially zero emissions. Hydrogen is not an energy source, but an energy carrier because it can be oxidized in a fuel cell to generate electricity. The fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to form water and oxygen. That is hydrogen generated from water during electrolysis produces water in the fuel cell, i.e., water to water. This is as clean as it gets.

Figure 2: Methane Steam Reforming Production Process

Steam Reforming ProcessSource: Windows on the State Government, State of Texas

Hydrogen fueled cars reportedly get an average of 60 miles per kg of hydrogen. The high efficiency of these vehicles tends to compensate for the high retail price of hydrogen, making it competitively priced gasoline. The industry is close to a price structure twice that of gasoline, at which point hydrogen starts to have a price advantage, according to Poppe.

To understand what 60 miles per kg of hydrogen means in terms of gallons of gasoline, a value called energy equivalents is used to compare different fuels. Energy equivalent is the amount of an alternative fuel it takes to equal the energy content of one liquid gallon of gasoline. For example, a typical gallon of gasoline has an energy content of about 114,000 BTU per gallon. Using standard conversation formulas, 114,000 BTUs equals 33.4 kWh (kilowatt hours). This means that one gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.4 kWh of electricity.

In a similar way, the energy content of one kilogram of hydrogen gas converts to 33.4 kWh. Therefore, one kilogram of hydrogen gas (33.4 kWh) has the same amount of energy as one gallon of gasoline (33.4 kWh), i.e., 1 Kg of H2 gas = 1 gallon of gasoline. (Note, it is happenstance that both 1 kg of hydrogen and one gallon of gasoline equal 33.4 kWh.)

Using this relationship, 60 miles per kg of hydrogen equals 60 miles per gallon (mpg) of gasoline. (The energy content of 60 kg of hydrogen equals the energy content of 60 gallons of gasoline.) Therefore, a hydrogen car rated at 60 miles per kg requires 4 kg of hydrogen to go 240 miles between fill ups. In the same token, a non-hybrid gasoline car rated at 25 mpg traveling 240 miles requires about 10 gallons of gasoline. The difference between 4 kg of hydrogen and 10 gallons of gasoline to go the same 240 miles is due to the higher efficiency of a fuel cell versus and internal combustion engine. The gasoline car wastes 6 gallons of gasoline and loses 684,000 BTUs of energy to go the same 240 miles.

With federal incentives drying up on the fuel side of the value chain, a powerful way to incentivize FCEV market is through cap-and-trade programs employing carbon credits. The evolution of a viable cap-and trade program in the U.S. goes back to 2006 with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The Act calls for a ten percent reduction in the carbon intensity (CI) of transportation fuels by 2020, where CI is in grams of carbon dioxide equivalents (gCO2e) per unit energy (MJ) of fuel.

Then In 2009, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program. The program, implemented and enforced since the beginning of 2011, is a performance-based regulation enacted to meet the statewide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) specified by California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

Finally, in January 2012, California launched a refined cap-and-trade program with enforceable compliance obligations in 2013. This program makes a grand leap towards California’s ability to meet their ultimate goal of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050.

The cap-and-trade program is a flexible market-based standard implemented using a system of credits and deficits. Transportation fuels that have higher carbon intensity values than the compliance schedule yield deficits. Fuels that have lower carbon intensity values generate credits. Regulated parties are required to have a net zero balance of credits and deficits annually. Credits can be banked and traded without limitations. Credits do not lose value.

Credits and deficits are calculated and expressed as metric tons of CO2 equivalent. Each credit represents 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide and only carbon offset credits issued by California Air Resources Board (CARB) are considered compliance offset credits.

The following five-step process adopted by the State of Oregon determines the amount of carbon credits or deficits due a regulated entity. The process is in two parts: an explanation of the “Methodology” used to determine credits or deficits and an example “Calculation” using the output of a theoretical hydrogen fueling station.


Step 1: Calculate the number of megajoules (MJ) of energy in the fuel sold

Because different liquid fuels have different energy densities, or are in non-liquid form, we cannot just use the volume of fuel in gallons. To put all of the liquid and non-liquid fuels on equal footing, megajoules are used instead of gallons, kilograms (kg), standard cubic feet (scf), or kilowatt-hours (KWh). Table 1 gives the energy densities in megajoules per unit of fuel used to calculate the number of megajoules of energy in the fuel sold.

Table 1: California Energy Density of Fuels

California Energy Economy Ratio (EER) ValuesSource: State of Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality

Step 2: Account for energy economy ratios, if necessary

Different types of vehicles use the energy in fuel more or less efficiently. For example, on average, an electric car will go three times farther than a gasoline vehicle on the same number of megajoules, while a heavy duty natural gas vehicle will go only 90 percent as far as a diesel heavy duty vehicle on the same number of megajoules. The Energy Economy Ratios (EERs) are used to adjust credits taking these differences into account. Table 2 shows California’s table of EERs for various fuels. You can see that for some fuels, such as gasoline, E85, diesel or biomass based diesel, the EER is 1.0, and the adjustment is unnecessary.

Table 2: California’s Energy Economy Ratio (EER) Vales

CA Energy Economy Ratio (EER) Values (cropped)Source: State of Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality

Step 3: Calculate the difference in the carbon intensity between the low carbon fuel standard and the fuel sold

Comparing the low carbon fuel standard for the year in question to the carbon intensity of a given fuel will tell us whether selling the fuel will generate credits or deficits, and will indicate whether selling the fuel will generate a relatively large or small number of credits or deficits. Table 3 gives the energy density of hydrogen.

Table 3: California’s Hydrogen Carbon Intensity Values

Hydrogen ( H2 )Carbon Intensity Lookup TableSource: California Air Resources Board

Step 4: Calculate the credits/deficits in grams of CO2 equivalent

Credits and deficits are expressed in volumes of greenhouse gas emissions, where credits show the emissions “saved” by selling a low carbon fuel compared to selling a fuel that exactly meets the low carbon fuel standard for that year. Deficits, by comparison, show the “excess” emissions incurred by selling a fuel whose carbon intensity is higher than the low carbon fuel standard, compared to selling a fuel that exactly meets the standard for that year. In this step, emissions are calculated in grams of CO2 equivalent, while in the next step emissions are converted into metric tons of CO2 equivalent. CO2 equivalent, or CO2E, is a unit of measurement that combines CO2 and other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide into one number. It describes, for a given mixture and amount of greenhouse gases, the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming potential.

Step 5: Convert the grams of CO2 equivalent into metric tons of CO2 equivalent

Greenhouse gas emissions are most commonly expressed in metric ton units. There are 1,000,000 grams per metric ton (g/metric ton), so the final step in the calculation is to divide the result from step 4 by 1,000,000.

The following two calculations of Carbon Credits and Deficits are theoretical and for demonstration purposes only. Credits or Defects is a direct consequent of the State law covering its carbon cap-and-trade program, should one even exist. Entities stated in these calculations maybe exempt from the program and not liable for their carbon emissions.


Calculation: Hydrogen Fuel Credits

This calculation assumes a fueling station owner sells 255,500 kg of hydrogen per year, a H2 carbon intensity of 76.10 gCO2E/MJ (produced from on site reforming with renewable feedstock), Table 3, and a State carbon fuel standard is 91.31 gCO2E/MJ.

Calculation for ( H2 ) Credits and Deficits Note: CI = Carbon intensity.

In this example, it’s estimated the station serviced 1,278 FCEV during the year; each car goes an average 12,000 miles per year at an average range of 60 miles per kg of hydrogen:

1,278 FCEV = [(255,500 kg per yr. x 60 miles per kg) / 12,000 miles per yr.].

 On a per car basis, 1,073 carbon credits equates to approximately 0.8 credits per car:

0.8 credits per car = (1,073 credits / 1,278 FCEV).

A regulated hydrogen gas station owner only accrues credits, should credits be available, when pumping hydrogen produced on-site reforming with renewable feedstock. Only in this case is the CI of the alternate fuel less than the state standard, i.e., 76.10 versus 91.31, Table 3.

All other methods to produce hydrogen have CI values higher than the state standard, Table 3. These methods include; compressed H2 gas from central reforming of natural gas (NG), liquid H2 from central reforming of NG, and compressed H2 from on-site reforming of NG. See California’s Intensity Lookup Table for Gasoline and fuels that Substitute for Gasoline for a comprehensive list of Cl values for gasoline and a host of alternate fuels.

Looking at all possible scenarios, the impact of the State CI standard is:

  • Credit Situation: CI of Alternative Fuel is lower that the State’s CI Standard

-      A higher State standard would generate more carbon credits.

-      A lower State standard could turn the credit into a deficit situation.

  • Deficit Situation: CI of Alternative Fuel is higher that the State’s CI Standard.

-      A higher State standard could turn the deficit into credit situation.

-      A lower the State standard would generate more carbon deficits.

Furthermore, the number of credits or deficits accrued derives from the quantity of alternative fuel supplied; gallons, kg or kWh, Step 1. Regardless of the CI value, if the alternative fuel is more efficient than gasoline than either more credits or less deficits will accrue

Table 4: California’s Electricity Carbon Intensity Values (gCO2e/MJ)

California’s Electricity Carbon Intensity ValuesSource: California Air Resources Board

Moving over to EVs for a comparative credit of deficit assessment, the Tesla Model S serves as the quintessential example for consumer appeal and range, miles per charge. A Model S fitted with an 85 KWh battery requires around 93.5 kWh of electricity to charge from 0% to 100%, including on-board charger losses of about 10%. Tesla claims an estimated range of 300 miles at 55 MPH with the 85 kWh battery.


Calculation: Tesla Model S EV

This calculation assumes an owner of one Tesla Model S using uses 3,740 kWh of electricity to go 12,000 during the year with an average range of 300 miles per charge and 93.5 kWh per charge:

3,740 kWh = [(12,000 miles per yr. / 300 miles per charge) x 93.5 kW/h per charge]

Other input values include, 104.71 gCO2E/MJ (California marginal electricity mix of natural gas and renewable energy sources, Table 4) and a State carbon fuel standard of 91.31 gCO2E/MJ.

Calculation of Carbon Deficits Teslar S Car

On a per car basis, 1,073 carbon credits equates to approximately 0.8 credits per car:

0.8 = (1,073 credits / 1,278 FCEV).

The following calculation of credits or deficits results in (-0.5) metric tons of CO2 per car per year. Because this number is negative, it is a deficit. The regulated facility producing that electricity would need to purchase credits to cover the deficit, or use banked credits from previous years.

Infrastructure remains the Achilles heel of FCEV and most other alternate fueled vehicles. As of September 2013, about 208 hydrogen fueling stations are operational worldwide; 80 in Europe, 76 in North America (55 in U.S.), 49 in Asia, and 3 the rest of the world according to FuelCellToday.

As a point of reference, statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show 121,446 gasoline and diesel fueling stations in the U.S.   Navigant Research reports about 64,000 publicly accessible charging stations worldwide. While the U.S. Department of Energy records 21,669 public and private electric stations in the U.S., Table 1.

Furthermore, by year-end 2012, NGV Global counts 21,292 natural gas fueling (NGV) stations worldwide. The U.S. Department of Energy identifies 1,345 public and private NGV fueling stations in the U.S., Table 5.

Table 5: Public and Private Alternative Fuel Station Counts by State and Fuel Type

Public adn Private ALternative Fuel Stations by State and Fuel TypeSource: U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center, last update March 28, 2014


  1. “Totals by Fuel” include all 50 states and District of Columbia.
  2. Electric charging units, or EVSE, are counted once for each outlet available. Includes legacy chargers, but does not include residential electric charging infrastructure.

The cost of a hydrogen fueling station is another critical factor preventing FCEVs gaining traction, with can range anywhere between $500,000 and $3,000,000 per installation. The price depends on factors such as location (cost of real estate, codes and permits and utilities), number and pressure of the pumps, the number and types of vehicles the facility intends to serve on a daily basis – current and future (i.e., light, medium-, heavy-duty vehicles), time frame needed for vehicle refueling (fast-fill or time-fill), security and regulatory measures. Table 6 profiles ten hydrogen fueling stations operational in California.

Table 6

California Fueling Stations in Operation (CA)

A hydrogen motor fuel dispensing facility is a service station that:

1) receives hydrogen produced offsite or produces hydrogen onsite by reforming natural gas;

2) stores liquid hydrogen or compressed hydrogen gas or both; and

3) dispenses hydrogen (as a gas or liquid) to fuel cell vehicles and vehicles with hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines.

Fueling at hydrogen stations is similar to fueling at natural gas fueling stations, but at somewhat higher pressures. Equipment for these stations normally includes storage tanks, compressors and dispensers, most of which are located in steel enclosures. Hydrogen is compressed to 10,152 psi and stored above ground in cylinders. Hydrogen supplied to the station is either a compressed gas or a liquid. Because of the unique properties of hydrogen, some special site and safety considerations it is critical to take into considerations location for space, zoning, conditional use permits and building codes.

All new technologies introduced into the public arena pose various regulatory challenges to new codes and standards that provide safe but expeditious permitting by state and local governments. Hydrogen fueling stations are no exception. Especially in the case of hydrogen where there is limited information on commercial use of hydrogen and fire safety codes.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Experience in permitting hydrogen fueling stations is thus far limited to a few states and local governments. However, enough stations have been built so that local jurisdictions do not have to reinvent the wheel. In approving permits for these stations, state and local jurisdictions have used existing codes and standards available from organizations such as the International Code Council (ICC), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and Compressed Gas Association (CGA). In recent years, the ICC has adopted specific provisions for hydrogen fueling stations in its International Fire Code and the NFPA has consolidated and updated key hydrogen standards as noted in the box on the next page. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy has begun a major effort at the national level to help facilitate the permitting process for hydrogen fueling stations. Individual states such as California and Michigan have similar efforts at the state-level.”

Figure 3 shows the complexity of jurisdictional authority and related codes. The U.S. Department of Energy issued a comprehensive guide on “Permitting Hydrogen Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities.”

 Figure 3: Agencies and Codes

Fueling and Services

National Template for Vehicle Systems

Delivery and Storage

Fueling Service Permits

GenerationControlling Authority - Generation

Some state governments see public-use hydrogen fueling stations similar to gasoline stations, which offer self-service pumps, convenience stores, rest facilities and other services. The major difference is hydrogen dispensing facilities stores and dispenses hydrogen instead of gasoline and diesel fuels to cars, buses, and trucks.

These facilities will offer hydrogen pumps in addition to gasoline or natural gas pumps. Other hydrogen fueling stations will be “standalone” operations. These stations will be designed and constructed to offer only hydrogen fueling, Figure 4. See 2012 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Statute and Guidelines, Article 19, Section 15303 New Construction or Conversion of Small Structures, p. 225 for guidelines.

Figure 4: Standalone Hydrogen Fueling Station

Hydrogen Fuel Station and Car

 Locating a hydrogen dispensing facility at an existing gasoline station can expedite the permitting process by allowing the developer to bypass the time consuming environmental review process. To streamline the process, the State of California enacted a provision that often exempts hydrogen fueling station projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) if it is located at an existing gasoline/diesel retail fueling facility, Figure 5 . The rationale is their small size and correspondingly minimal environmental impacts. See 2012 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Statute and Guidelines, Article 19, Section 15301 Existing Facilities, p. 224 for specific guidelines.

California also allows owners granted a Conditional Use Permit for retail fueling stations to incorporate hydrogen fueling capacity without a public hearing. Public hearings are sometimes problematic and often distort the views of the majority of a community. This distorted influence can unreasonably delay a project. Other reviews and requirements specified by the local and state governments to obtain a building permit remain as is.

Figure 5: Fueling Station Provides Vehicles both Hydrogen and Gasoline/Diesel Fuels

The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development works with local, state and federal government agencies, hydrogen station developers, station hosts, electric vehicle regional planners, installers, and hosts, in addition to the automobile companies and other interested parties, to facilitate and accelerate the permitting and establishment of both the hydrogen fueling and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

As permitting officials and developers become familiar with the basic properties, uses, and safety considerations of hydrogen, they will better understand the construction and operation of hydrogen fueling stations and related codes and standards.

The high cost of hydrogen fueling facilities and lack of FCEVs makes it impossible to justly building and operating a station without Federal and/or State incentive and funding opportunities, Table 6. The Newport Beach Hydrogen Fueling Station illustrates the funding and financing structure.

The station opened to the public July 2012. The facility stores on a daily basis up to 100 kg of gaseous hydrogen from steam methane reforming of natural gas. Production, purification, compression, and storage complete the systems integrated into the station. The owner received a $2.0 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a Hydrogen Station Analysis Project to collect data from state-of-the-art hydrogen fueling facilities and demonstrate the footprint and equipment arrangement of such a retail facility.

A general breakdown of the funding / financing structure of the Newport Beach Station is:

  • Total:   4.0 million (ARB estimate February 2011)
  • Govt:    DOE – $2.0 million (2006) for 2nd generation equipment
  • ARB – $1.7 million grant
  • Private / Cost Share: Shell – $2.3 million
  • Public Funding Period: Three years

(ARB= Air Resources Board – California Environmental Protection Agency)

On the state level, California’s Energy Commission (CEC) a leader providing both capital and O&M funding support for Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Programs. The CEC investment plan for 2013-2014 allocates $100 million in grants for alternative fuels and vehicles through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. The plan calls for $20 million in funds for an additional 68 hydrogen fueling stations to support the anticipated rollout of these vehicles in 2015-2017. Currently California has about 24 stations are built or in development.

The acceleration of FCEVs in the U.S. is being supported by several incentives. These federal incentives have either expired or about to expire unless extended by Congress and include:

  • Investment tax credits (ITC) through 2106 equal to 30% of the capital cost, up to $3,000/kW, associated with business purchase of qualifying fuel cell products;
  • ITC through 2014 equal to 30% of the capital cost, up to $200,000/station, toward the purchase of hydrogen fueling equipment; and
  • Grant-in-lieu of tax credit through 2011 (expired) equal to 30% of the capital cost, up to $3,000/kW, associated with the purchase of qualifying fuel cell products; and

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) provides information on Federal and State regulations and incentives, data and tools to help fleets and other transportation decision-makers find ways to reduce petroleum consumption through the use of alternative and renewable fuels, advanced vehicles, and other fuel-saving measures.

A listing of any applicable state incentives for FCEVs and hydrogen fueling facilities is given in   the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

In closing, this paper took a brief look at costs, carbon credits, permitting and incentives of hydrogen fueling stations. Adoption of FCEVs has a steep hill to climb. It will take legislation like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards and grant programs like those available through California’s Energy Commission, and partnerships with automakers, major O&G companies, and fuel cell manufacturers for FCEVs to gain any traction in the marketplace.

Neither EVs nor FCEVs are zero emission; zero emission at the car level, yes; but not when the entire life cycle of the fuel, electrons or hydrogen, is taken into consideration. Generating hydrogen by steam reforming of natural gas produces CO2 even with renewable sources of energy, unless the CO2 by product is captured and sequestered. Same is true of lithium-ion batteries charged with electrons produced from coal- and gas-fired electrical generation stations. Cradle to grave ZEVs will only happen when electricity for charging batteries or electrolyzing water comes from 100% renewable energy. For the time being reduced emissions is a step in the right direction.

Lessons learned from Tesla tell us that cost of the vehicle is not a roadblock to stimulate market interest as long as the vehicle appeals to the buyer and convenient ways to “fill-up” are available. For FCEVs this is obviously easier said than done. Where EVs can plug-and-go anywhere in America and most nations on earth, one would think it’s impossible for FCEVs to make it. But lithium-ion batteries have practical limitations. The question is how money will it take to make noticeable improvements that overcome these limitations.

Possibly the industry – electric vehicles – is looking at the problem the wrong way. Other than where the juice comes from, EVs and FCEVs are fraternal twins. Fuel cells are nothing more than next generation batteries. When lithium-ion battery technology becomes too cumbersome and costly, fuel cells will be there to take over. Got to run, time to recharge my cell phone.

Are Hydrogen Fuel Cells Vehicles Dead On Arrival?

March 24, 2014

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle SchematicThe national vision by politicians, economists, industrialists and environmentalists to transition to hydrogen economy by 2030 seems deadlocked, with hydrogen fuel cells projected to represent a $3 billion market of about 5.9 GW by 2030, according to Lux Research, Figure 1.(1)

The dream of fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen from zero-carbon sources such as renewable power or nuclear energy comes from estimates that the cost of avoided carbon dioxide would be more than $600 a metric ton – ten times higher than most other technologies under investigation.

Yet today, there are only two fuel-cell vehicles (FCEV) available in the U.S. market – Honda’s FCX Clarity, which is available to lease, and the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell.

Figure 1
Fuel Cell Market: 2012 – 2030



Fuel cells combine the best of electric and gasoline cars without the downsides, the automakers say. They drive like electric cars—quietly, with tons of off-the-line power—but can be refueled just like gasoline-powered cars, writes Jerry Hirsch for the Los Angeles Times.(2)

In another article for the Los Angeles Times, Jerry Hirsh points out:(3)

“….. As they (fuel cells) move into production, fuel cell cars should gain a price advantage over vehicles that run on battery power.”

“…..lesser weight and higher energy density of fuel cells also enable them to be used in a wider range of vehicles, from a family sedan to full-size trucks to city buses.“

BEVs have a number of significant issues. Unless you are willing to shell-out for Tesla’s Model S, range is still a significant issue. And even if you do opt for the Model S, the battery can take 20 minutes just to reach 50% charge, compared to a few minutes’ refueling for ICE cars, states Katie Spence for The Motley Fool.(4)

Robert Duffer for the Chicago Tribune states, Fuel cell cars use a stack of cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen in the air to generate electricity, which powers the motor that propels the car. The only emission is water vapor and, with a 300-mile range can run 3 or 4 times longer than the most capable electrics, aside from Tesla’s all-electric Model S, which has a range of 265 miles. The Nissan Leaf has a 75-mile range.(5)

Unfortunately, the push to develop a hydrogen economy in the U.S.; sparked by the Matsunaga Hydrogen Research, Development, and Development Act of 1990; never gained sufficient traction and political support to overcome major barriers to market entry such as high capital costs and lack of an infrastructure. Capitol Hill’s indifference to FCEVs is underscored by The Department of Energy (DoE) hydrogen and fuel cells budget history from 1990 to 2011, Figure 2.(6)

Figure 2
DoE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Budget History: 1990 – 2011

DoE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Budget HistorySource: U.S. Department of Energy


Including years 2012 – 2014, the total 25-year DoE budget for hydrogen and fuels research, development, demonstrations and deployment (RDD&D) was about $2.8 billion, an average annual allocation of $112 million. To put this into perspective, the 2014 budget for hydrogen RDD&D of $100 million, i.e., 0.35 percent of the total DoE budget request of $28.4 billion. This falls short of other renewable technologies such as solar, bioenergy and wind technologies, which received allocations of $365 million (1.25 percent), $282 million (0.99 percent) and $144 million (0.51 percent) for FY 2014, respectively.

The DoE budget for FY 2014 includes an allocation of $575 million for Vehicle Technology Programs. However, fuel cell R&D is not directly included the funding profile for these programs. The main emphasis of Vehicle Technologies is battery/energy storage R&D and vehicle technologies deployment.

The large increase in expenditures between 2002 and 2011 reflect President Bush’s announcement of a major hydrogen initiative in his 2003 State of the Union address:

“Tonight I am proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. A simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.”

Though marginalized throughout its decades’ long history, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may not be entirely dead on arrival. Today, the media brings a steady stream of discussions, publications and announcements about activity in FCEVs. There are just two fuel-cell vehicles available in the U.S. market: Honda’s FCX Clarity, which is available to lease, and the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, Figure 3. The most recent reverberations come from automakers, such as Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda, testing and planned production of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for 2015, Figure 4.

Figure 3
2013 Mercedes-Benz F-Cell



Figure 4
Fuel Cell Vehicles: A Look Inside

Fuel Cell Vehicle Exploded View


The Tucson Fuel Cell offers, Figure 5 (7):
• Customers in the Los Angeles/Orange County region a rental price $499 per month for a 36-month term, with $2,999 down. This includes unlimited free hydrogen refueling.
• Driving range up to an estimated 300 miles;
• Capable of full refueling in less than 10 minutes, similar to gasoline;
• Minimal reduction in daily utility compared with its gasoline counterpart;
• Instantaneous electric motor torque (221 lb-ft);
• Minimal cold-weather effects compared with battery electric vehicles;
• Reliability and long-term durability;
• No moving parts within the power-generating fuel cell stack;
• More than two million durability test miles on Hyundai’s fuel cell fleet since 2000; and
• Extensive crash, fire and leak testing successfully completed.

Figure 5
Hyundai aims to produce 1,000 Tuscon fuel-cell electric vehicles by 2015



Additionally, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. recently announced a cooperative agreement to accelerate the commercialization of fuel cell electric vehicle technology, Figure 6.

Figure 6
Nissan’s Next Generation Fuel Cell Stack released in 2011

nissan 2011 Fuel cell stack


Even with insufficient support from the federal government, lack of a hydrogen infrastructure, and cost uncertainties, FCEVs are poking their head above the radar. In general, automakers see FCEVs as the most judicious path to satisfy stringent zero-emission vehicle mandates set by California and nine other states. California’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate requires 15 percent of all new cars sold be emission free by 2025. The ten-state alliance wants about 3.3 million ZEVs on the road by 2025.

Without question, the most important barrier to larger‐scale implementation of low carbon technologies comes down to one factor: the cost of the technology. Fuel cell costs continue to decline significantly for light duty vehicles, with projected volume costs lower by more than 80 percent since 2002 and more than 35 percent since 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Figure 7.(8) The cost per kilowatt (kW) for high volume production of transportation fuel cells moved closer to DOE’s target of $30 per kW where they will be cost‐competitive in light‐duty vehicles.

Figure 7
Projected Fuel Cell Transportation System Costs per kW, Assuming High Volume Production (500,000 units per year)

Cost of an 80-kW fuel cell system

Source: U.S. Department of Energy


In terms of fuel cost, “REB Research, makes hydrogen generators that produce 75 slpm of ultra-pure hydrogen by steam reforming methanol-water in a membrane reactor. A generator of this type produces 9.5 kg of hydrogen per day, consuming 69 gal of methanol-water. At 80¢/gal for methanol-water, and 10¢/kWh for electricity, the hydrogen costs $2.50/kg., or $5,000 over a 120,000 mile life. This is somewhat cheaper than gasoline, but about twice the dollar per mile cost of a Tesla S if only electric cost is considered. The hydrogen car is much cheaper on a per-mile basis, though when you include the fact that the battery has only a 120,000-mile life. A 120,000 mile life is short for a luxury car, and very short for a truck or bus.”(9)

The DoE Fuel Cell Technology Office released a 74-page report titled “2012 Fuel Cell Technologies Market Report.”(10) The report concludes: “the trends for the fuel cell industry were encouraging in 2012. Total fuel cell shipments increased in 2012, in terms of total units and megawatts (MW). Other notable events highlighted include:

“Total fuel cell shipments in 2012 increased 34 percent over 2011 and 321 percent over 2008.”

“Roughly 30,000 fuel cell systems were shipped in 2012, up from around 5,000 shipments in 2008, largely due to Japan’s residential fuel cell program,” Figure 8.

“The number of megawatts shipped on an annual basis more than doubled between 2008 and 2012, rising from about 60 MW to more than 120 MW.”

“The projected cost of a transportation fuel cell system was at $47 per kW in 2012 and continues to approach DOE’s target of $30 per kW.”

“Fuel cell costs continue to decline significantly for light duty vehicles, with projected volume costs lower by more than 80 percent since 2002 and more than 35 percent since 2008.”

“The Obama Administration implemented new incentives for fuel cell and other advanced technology vehicles when it raised the fuel economy standard in the U.S. to 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks.”

“Cumulative global investment in fuel cell companies totaled $853.6 million between 2010 and 2012. This is a significant increase over the $671.4 million invested in fuel cell companies between 2009 and 2011.”

Figure 8
Fuel Cell Systems Shipped
by Application, World Markets: 2008-2012

Fuel Cell Systems Shipped (cropped)

Source: Navigant Research

 Another major challenge for FCEVs is a nascent infrastructure to produce, distribute, store, deliver and maintain hydrogen fuel. Today there are only ten public hydrogen-fueling stations in the United States, according to the DoE. California is spending as much as $20 million a year to help bring the number of fueling stations up to 100 within the next five years or so. There should be 28 hydrogen stations spread across California’s metropolitan areas by 2015, when all three of these hydrogen models will be for sale.

One remaining question is the reliability, power quality, endurance and longevity of mobile fuel cells. Although fuel cells provide electricity at high efficiencies with exceptional environmental sensitivity, their long-term performance and reliability under real-world conditions remains largely unanswered.

However, according to Fuel Cells 2000, “The material handling sector has provided the fuel cell industry with an early market and technology indicator in the U.S., with deployments and orders for forklifts and lift trucks inching closer to 5,000. This includes many big name companies with multiple repeat orders, such as BMW, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Lowe’s,” Figure 9. The report further states that fuel cells were found to last longer than batteries, and operated in freezing temperatures as low as -20° F (-29° C).”(11)

Figure 9
Fuel Cell-Powered Material Handling Vehicle

Fuel Cell Powered Fork Lift

Source: Fuel Cells 2000


Fuel Cells 2000 reports, fuel cells last longer than batteries, and also operate in freezing temperatures, which led Walmart, a company that had already tested and deployed several hundred fuel cell forklifts at facilities in Ohio and Ontario, Canada, to choose fuel cell lift trucks for its sustainable refrigerated distribution center in Alberta, Canada. The fuel cell-powered vehicles operate in conditions as low as -20° F (-29° C).

In closing, substantial reduction of fossil fuels from all sectors of the economy by renewable energy and zero-emission vehicles is the Holy Grail of modern society. Zero-emissions vehicles come in two flavors BEV and FCEV. BEVs longer sales history and wider public-private support give them an apparent competitive advantage over FCEVs. After many decades of false hopes, FCEVs market introduction may be a Hail Mary play by automakers to achieve stringent emission standards. To succeed, FCEVs must address BEVs performance and endurance limitations. High production costs and a relatively nonexistent hydrogen-fueling infrastructure may prolong the agony of success or failure. Until automakers sell FCEV in volume, they are expected to cost more than comparable gasoline-powered and electric vehicles, not including the premium priced Tesla BEV, which is reported by Forbes to have outsold the nearest competitor by more than 30%.(12). Public-private investments in building a hydrogen-refueling infrastructure are essential for FCEVs long-term success. In the final analysis, BEVs are an inadequate technology push indifferent to consumer needs and driving patterns. As a technology solution, FCEVs are arising from the dead because the industry believes further Lithium-ion battery advances will not substantially improve the range and performance impediments of electric cars. Will FCEVs and BEVs prosecute a war of attrition? My money is on FCEVs.

1. ”The Great Compression: The Future of the Hydrogen Economy,” Lux Research, State of the Market Report, December 11, 2012;

2. “CES 2014: Toyota shows off fuel cell car that can also power a home,” Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2014;,0,884109.story#ixzz2wi7vjAQx
3. “Fuel cell cars from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai set to debut at auto shows,” Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2013;
4. “Toyota’s Hydrogen vs. Tesla’s Batteries: Which Car Will Win?” Katie Spence, The Motley Fool, November 16, 2013;
5. “Hydrogen or electric? Showdown over the fuel of the future set for 2014,” Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 7, 2014;
6. “Fuel Cell Technologies Program Record: Historical Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Budgets,” U.S. Department of Energy, Record #: 13004, May 31 2013;
7. “Hyundai to offer Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle to LA-area retail customers in spring 2014; Honda, Toyota show latest FCV concepts targeting 2015 launch,” Green Car Congress, November 21, 2013;
8. “2012 Fuel Cell Technologies Market Report,” U.S. Department of Energy, Fuel Cell Technologies Office, October 2013;
9. REB Research Blog, Random thoughts about hydrogen, engineering, business and life by Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, February 12, 2014;
10. U.S. Department of Energy, Fuel Cell Technologies Office, Pathways to Commercial Success: Technologies and Products Supported by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office;
11. “The Business Case for Fuel Cells 2013 Reliability, Resiliency & Savings,” Fuel Cells 2000;
12. “Tesla Sales Blow Past Competitors, But With Success Comes Scrutiny,” Mark Rogowsky, Forbes, January 16, 2014;


March 12, 2014

For those who do not understand fracking, this is a must to watch.

Climate Change: The Earth Shall Win, People Shall Lose! II

December 24, 2013

Human ExtinctionThe reports continue to flow in: Climate Change: The Earth Shall Win, People Shall Lose!  by Dahr Jamail, Author, ‘Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Huffington Post,

Season Greetings

December 24, 2013

U154P5029T2D532490F24DT20121130081808Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Wishing you and your family a joyful Festive Season and an exciting New Year.

With warm regards,


What Does the Closing of the Big Hole Tell Us!

December 17, 2013

ozone_omi_2013259As the world struggles to control climate change, a ray of hope surfaced with the announcement that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is shrinking and may make a full recovery in the near future.

The ozone layer contains over 90% of all atmospheric ozone, extends between 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The layer is very important for life on Earth because it has the property of absorbing the most damaging form of UV radiation, UV-B radiation, which causes sunburn and skin cancer. The hole is the result of human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, and carbon tetrachloride used in aerosols and refrigeration escaping into the atmosphere.

Discovering Antarctica explains:

“….. CFCs and other ozone depleting gases may come from anywhere, but it is in the south polar stratosphere where the conditions become most favorable for ozone destruction. The key factor is the presence of stratospheric clouds, where high winds cause a vortex of cold air to circulate over the continent, and the lack of atmospheric mixing between the south polar latitudes and air from elsewhere during the austral winter and early spring (CFCs are especially effective at depleting ozone in the frigid temperatures over Antarctica). “

“….. both problems (hole in ozone layer and climate change) are the result of atmospheric pollution, the causes and consequences relating to each are very different. Despite the differences, there are also some links between the two problems. For example, in addition to causing ozone depletion, CFCs are also a greenhouse gas – so phasing out the production of CFCs helps in combating climate change as well as repairing the ozone layer.”

Discovering Antarctica further states, “Soon after the scale of ozone depletion over Antarctica became apparent in 1985, an historic international agreement was signed (the Montreal Protocol) which came into force in 1989. The protocol set deadlines for reducing and eliminating the production and use of ozone depleting substances. It also promoted research and development into finding ozone safe substitute chemicals for the uses to which CFCs, …..”

Ratified by 195 countries, the protocol has been described as one of the most successful international treaties. A New York Times article states:

“It (the Montreal Protocol ) incorporates pragmatic, business-friendly principles that have allowed it to operate smoothly for more than two decades, achieving its goals — and then some — with little controversy … If production (of CFCs) had been allowed to continue, a batch of scientific studies show, the planet would most likely be warming a lot faster than it is.”

While levels of ozone depleting chlorine in the atmosphere have decreased as a result of the protocol, it’s too soon to tie them to a healthier ozone layer. Ryan Grenoble reports in The Huffington Post:

“….. the scientists believe the most recent ozone hole changes, including both the largest hole ever, in 2006, and one of the smallest holes, in 2012, are primarily due to weather. Strong winds have the ability to move ozone in large quantities, effectively blocking the hole some years, while failing to block it in others.”

“….. weather is expected to be the predominant factor in the ozone hole’s size until 2025, at which point CFCs will have dropped enough as a result of the Montreal Protocol to become noticeable.”

“….. however, the ozone hole is expected to have made a full recovery by 2070.”

NASA states: “There was a lot of Antarctic ozone depletion in 2013, but because of above average temperatures in the Antarctic lower stratosphere, the hole was a bit below average compared to ozone holes observed since 1990,” said Paul Newman, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

So how can a carbon-based society change to a more sustainable approach? Controlling harmful CFC emissions by prohibiting its use in aerosols and refrigerants is significantly less complex than combating greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Major battlefields exist in every sector of society – domestic and international.  The cause of the ozone hole was met early on with a general international agreement on what the scientists had to say. It has taken the global community much longer to accept the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change.

In addition, the cost impact of phasing out CFCs was negligible in comparison to the apparent cost of converting over to clean energy. The technological obstacles finding CFC’s substitutes were also not as severe as developing an installed base of suitable alternative fuels on the world stage.

In closing, there appears to be only one answer that makes “cents.” That’s right dollars and cents. Only when fossil fuels become precious and priced, accordingly will there be a gold rush towards clean fuels. Will this happen in the near term, doubtful.  Not in the face of cheap coal, stable crude oil production, and abundant natural gas reserves.  Otherwise, please be the first in line to gladly accept higher prices for fuel, electricity and food, just to name a few.

Season’s Greetings

December 13, 2013

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

May Peace, Joy, Hope and Happiness be yours during this Holiday Season and throughout the New Year



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 188 other followers

%d bloggers like this: