California spending $46 million on hydrogen stations for large scale fuel cell vehicle rollout

I just received word through the California Fuel Cell Partnership that the California Energy Commission has awarded $46 million in grants for fuel cell projects in California.  According to the press release this is meant to “fund projects that develop infrastructure necessary to dispense hydrogen transportation fuel and to provide needed Operation and Maintenance funding to support hydrogen refueling operations prior to the large-scale roll-out of Fuel Cell Vehicles.”

There’s going to be a large scale roll-out of Fuel Cell Vehicles?  Oh my.

One of the core problems with fuel cell vehicles is recharging infrastructure.  There is none.  There’s no existing structure of hydrogen distribution to reuse, instead it has to be built from scratch.  Further, hydrogen refueling is technical enough it cannot be done at home, so home refueling is out of the question.

As you see below, the $46 million will bring California to 54 total hydrogen stations, and California has a goal of 100 stations that (according to the press release) are enough for full commercialization of fuel cell vehicles.

I’m about to launch into a line of discussion that risks being dismissed as me participating in a circular firing squad.  That is, I’m about to shoot at fuel cell vehicles when I should be applauding them, because FCV’s are a form of “Zero Emission Vehicle.”  But…

The investment, $46 million, could build a whole lot of EV charging stations.  So it raises the question of what’s the best allocation of resources.  Supporting electric vehicle rollout, or fuel cell vehicles?  For comparison I see on the CEC website another grant package, awarded a couple weeks ago, for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, totaling $6 million.

According to the list of grants each refueling station installation is costing California somewhere between $1 million to $2.1 million, depending on the awardee.  The Air Liquide stations run $2.1 million, the FirstElement Fuel stations run $1.45 million, and HyGen Industries stations run $1.7 million.  The document doesn’t show the total cost, just the part California is funding.

Electric car charging stations cost a fraction of this – even the fast charging stations.

J1772 extension cords

The station locations are interesting.  It looks like they’ve selected for areas with a high proportion of rich people.  What I’d assume is that the initial fuel cell vehicles will be expensive, and therefore only affordable to rich people.  We’re talking Mill Valley, Palo Alto, Hollywood, Saratoga, and Woodside.  Some others will be along interstate highways, seemingly located to support long distance travel.

The one in Woodside is rather curious – at the intersection of Highway 84 and Skyline Blvd.  This is one of the more remote regions of the SF Bay Area, up in the mountains with few people living in the area.  That intersection is famous for Alice’s Restaurant (not the one in Stockbridge MA made famous by Arlo Guthrie), and not so famous for the nucleus of electric vehicle entrepreneurs who live(d) near that intersection.  Ian Wright, founder of Wrightspeed lives up there, so I’ve been told.  Richard Hatfield, the owner of Lightning Motorcycles, used to live there.   I’ve also been told the founders of Tesla Motors and some others live, or used to live, near that intersection.  The best use that intersection would play for hydrogen refueling is the occasional traveler to the coast, but why would it be located on Hwy 84 and not on Hwy 92 or Hwy 17?

The one in Truckee, while remote, makes sense because it’s right on I-80, in the middle of Donner Pass, which is the main corridor for highway travel through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

If I’m right, California is about to spend a pile of money on refueling infrastructure for vehicles that are affordable only by the 1% or maybe the 3%.

Is this the best allocation of California’s taxpayer money?  Does anybody really believe there will be a major rollout of fuel cell vehicles in October 2015?

For Immediate Release: May 1, 2014
Media Contact: Teresa Schilling – 916-654-4989

California Investing Nearly $50 Million in Hydrogen Refueling Stations


Accelerates construction of 28 new stations and one mobile refueler
to boost statewide public network

SACRAMENTO – The California Energy Commission
today announced it will invest $46.6 million to accelerate the
development of publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations in
California in order to promote a consumer market for zero-emission fuel
cell vehicles.

The recommended funding awards to eight different applicants were made through the Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP).
The recommended awards include six 100 percent renewable hydrogen
refueling stations and will add 13 new locations in Northern California
and 15 in Southern California, strategically located to create a
refueling network along major corridors and in regional centers. The
mobile refueler will provide added reliability to the early hydrogen
refueling network to provide refueling capability when stations are

“Transitioning to low- and zero-emission vehicles is critical to meeting
air quality goals and to reducing the emissions that lead to climate
change,” said Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott.
“With this funding, California will accelerate the construction of a
reliable and affordable refueling infrastructure to support the
commercial market launch of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.”

The recommended awards will advance Gov. Brown’s executive order
directing state government to support and facilitate the rapid
commercialization of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in California, with a
benchmark that by 2020 “the State’s zero-emission vehicle
infrastructure will be able to support up to one million vehicles.”

Today’s recommended awards will add 28 new stations to 9 existing and
the 17 stations currently under development. These 54 hydrogen refueling
stations represent significant progress towards meeting California’s
goal of establishing a 100-station network to support the full
commercialization of fuel cell vehicles in California.

Award recipients:

Air Liquide Industrial US LP will receive $2,125,000 to construct a 100% renewable hydrogen refueling station in Palo Alto.
FirstElement Fuel, Inc. will receive
$2,902,000 to construct two 100 percent renewable refueling stations in
Los Angeles, and $24,667,000 for 17 stations in Campbell, Coalinga,
Costa Mesa, Hayward, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, La Canada Flintridge,
Long Beach, Mill Valley, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Saratoga,
South Pasadena, South San Francisco, Redwood City and Truckee.
HyGen Industries, LLC will receive
$5,306,814 to construct three 100 percent renewable hydrogen refueling
stations in Orange, Pacific Palisades and Rohnert Park.
Institute of Gas Technology will receive $999,677 for a mobile refueling unit.
ITM Power, Inc. will receive $2,125,000 to construct a station in Riverside.
Linde LLC will receive $4,250,000 to construct stations in Oakland and San Ramon.
Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corporation (HTEC) will receive $2,125,000 to construct a station in Woodside.
Ontario CNG Station Inc. will receive $2,125,000 to construct a station in Ontario.

Demonstrating California’s commitment to the successful establishment of
a viable hydrogen fueling infrastructure supporting the rollout of fuel
cell vehicles, the Energy Commission announced the funding opportunity,
Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure (PON-13-607),
on November 22, 2013.
Numerous public workshops were conducted along
with a survey of interested stakeholders to develop the most successful
hydrogen solicitation to date, which generated 140 applications
requesting more than $130 million for station construction and operating
and maintenance support. Applicants were scored on set criteria,
including team qualifications, market viability, project readiness,
project implementation, project budget, economic benefits, hydrogen
refueling station performance, mobile refueler performance, innovation,
and sustainability.

To date, the ARFVTP has invested more than $400 million in at least 260
alternative fuel, infrastructure, and vehicle technology projects. The
Legislature’s reauthorization of the ARFVTP in 2013 continues the
State’s annual program investments of up to $100 million, and dedicates
up to $20 million of this amount to the installation of hydrogen
refueling infrastructure. Funding is derived from surcharges on vehicle
and boat registrations, and smog check and license plate fees.

Fuel cell vehicles are zero-emission, using hydrogen to fuel a car and
producing only water vapor and heat in the process. Hydrogen sold
through refueling stations funded by the Energy Commission must be 33
percent renewable. Renewable hydrogen can be produced using biomethane
from biomass or landfills, or from water electrolysis using renewable
energy sources such as wind or solar power. The Energy Commission has
concluded that a fuel cell vehicle using 33 percent renewable hydrogen
can be as clean for the environment as an electric vehicle, resulting in
greenhouse gas reductions of about 68 percent compared to gasoline
powered vehicles. Greater environmental benefits can be achieved as the
amount of renewable hydrogen content increases. Comparable to
gasoline-powered vehicles, fuel cell vehicles can be refueled within 5-7
minutes and have a range of 300+ miles on a single tank.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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