Hydrogen stations in SF Bay Area still offline, 4 months after explosion

Today the California Fuel Cell Partnership newsletter announced the opening of a hydrogen refueling station in Oakland. It is described as the tenth hydrogen refueling station in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is a True Zero station operated by First Element. However a perusal of the hydrogen station status map on the CAFCP website shows that almost every hydrogen station in the SF Bay Area is offline.

Fuel Cell car owners in the SF Bay Area clearly cannot be driving their cars in the current situation, therefore have an expensive paperweight gracing their driveways, and are no doubt angry.

Back in June 2019, an explosion at an Air Products facility in Santa Clara derailed hydrogen supply in the SF Bay Area. That explosion concerned refueling equipment that supplied the trucks that brought hydrogen to the refueling stations in the area. Since June, nearly every station in the SF Bay Area remain OFFLINE, and stations in the Sacramento and Los Angeles areas have had spotty availability.

It appears the current situation in Southern California is that stations are well supplied, with a few running low on fuel. But stations in Northern California have generally had the same status since June 2, 2019, that there is a significant hydrogen supply disruption.

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We know what that disruption was, the explosion at the Air Products plant in Santa Clara.

This situation illustrates two risks with relying on hydrogen for fueling fuel cell cars:

  • Supply to stations is fragile, since it relies on a truck rolling from a hydrogen generation plant
  • There are very few hydrogen stations – especially when compared to the number of DC fast charging stations for electric cars.

There are two popular approaches for achieving zero emission transportation. One is fuel cell cars – and to believe they are “zero emission” you have to ignore the fact that the hydrogen is usually stripped out of natural gas, making hydrogen a fossil fuel in disguise. The other is electric cars, where the solution to rapid refueling is DC fast charging stations.

The SF Bay Area has dozens if not a couple hundred DC fast charging stations while there is a handful of hydrogen stations. There would be two reasons for this – there are relatively few hydrogen cars available for purchase, and the cost of hydrogen refueling stations is dramatically higher than for DC fast charging stations. California earmarked about $2 million in subsidies for each hydrogen station, while it is known that installing a DC fast charging station costs about $100,000.

This means that fast charging infrastructure for electric cars will innately expand faster than hydrogen refueling infrastructure for fuel cell cars. Therefore by the time the fuel cell car makers get production levels to a reasonable level, electric car adoption will be vastly bigger and the support infrastructure for electric cars will likewise be vastly bigger.

The status map for September 2019 is shown above. The status map back in June 2019 was:

This is the status of stations in the SF Bay Area per the CAFCP status map.

Mill Valley Offline (significant hydrogen supply disruption) TrueZero
Oakland Online (the one which just opened) TrueZero
South San Francisco Offline (significant hydrogen supply disruption) TrueZero
Hayward Offline (significant hydrogen supply disruption) TrueZero
San Ramon Online Iwatani
Fremont Offline (low on fuel, no deliveries scheduled at this time) TrueZero
Palo Alto Offline (intermittent supply issues) Air Liquide
Mountain View Offline (maintenance) Iwatani
San Jose North Offline (no fuel) TrueZero
Saratoga Offline (“significant hydrogen supply disruption) TrueZero
Campbell Offline (no fuel) TrueZero

Status of other stations outside the SF Bay Area are:

Citrus Heights (Sacramento) Online Shell
Sacramento Offline Shell
West Sacramento Offline (for “evaluation”) Iwatani
Truckee Online TrueZero
Harris Ranch Online TrueZero
Santa Barbara Online TrueZero
Thousand Oaks Online TrueZero
Woodland Hills Online Air Products
La Canada Flintridge Offline (“low on fuel”) TrueZero
Pasadena Online (“low on fuel”) TrueZero
Hollywood Offline (no fuel) TrueZero
Fairfax Online Air Products
West LA Online Air Products
Santa Monica Online Air Products
Playa Del Rey Online True Zero
LAX Online Air Liquide
Lawndale Offline (no fuel) Air Products
Torrance Online (this has a pipeline) Shell
Long Beach Offline (no fuel) TrueZero
Diamond Bar Online Air Products
Anaheim Offline (compressor issue) Air Liquide
Costa Mesa Partly offline TrueZero
UC Irvine Online Air Products
Lake Forest Offline TrueZero
San Juan Capistrano Offline (for evaluation) Iwatani
Del Mar Partly offline (low fuel) TrueZero

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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