California’s Hydrogen Highway adding more fueling stations worth $70m

California’s hydrogen highway will become more robust with $70 million in planned grant funding to expand the state’s existing network of hydrogen fueling stations.

A Hydrogen refuelling station – image courtesy of Shell

The grants, which have been conditionally approved, will go to FirstElement Fuel, Shell Hydrogen and Iwatani Corp. to build new hydrogen fueling stations and add hydrogen fueling to existing gasoline stations. The funds are expected be awarded at the California Energy Commission’s business meeting in December, pending the outcome of ongoing negotiations, a CEC spokesperson said.

Nearly all of the hydrogen-powered cars, also known as fuel cell electric vehicles, in the United States are in California because California is currently the only state to have a network of hydrogen fueling stations.

At present, the Californian Hydrogen Highway is comprised of 42 hydrogen stations with 15 in development, said Keith Malone, a spokesman for the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a public-private enterprise promoting hydrogen vehicles in California. Existing stations are in northern California in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco and in southern California in San Diego about 500 miles away. One station is midway at Harris Ranch in Coalinga. Others are concentrated in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Since hydrogen fuel cars can get 250 to 350 miles on one tank, drivers already can travel most of the state. But some areas in California have only one station.

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More hydrogen fueling stations needed

More than 110 stations have been recommended for awards with the northernmost stations just north of San Francisco and the southernmost stations to be additional San Diego stations, Malone said. All stations funded and in development are projected to be open by the end of 2022, even though progress in the past year exhibited delays and may be further affected by COVID-19, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Download the map of existing and proposed hydrogen fueling stations in California.

“The stations that have been recently recommended for funding will push us past the 100-station milestone and close to the next milestone, 200, set by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in a 2018 executive order,” Malone said.

The increased availability of hydrogen stations also can help move forward California’s goal of getting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California roads by 2025.

“The zero-emission transportation market continues to be California’s for the making, deliver jobs and cleaner air especially in communities most in need of relief,” said Patty Monahan, the CEC’s lead commissioner for transportation. “This funding plan is another down payment on electrifying transportation while helping ensure everyone can take part through access to convenient fueling are innovative mobility options.”

Hydrogen-powered cars are a tiny but growing fraction of the state’s zero-emission vehicles. At the end of 2019, California had nearly 560,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the road, according to the CEC. As of April 1, 2020, the state had 7,172 active hydrogen-powered cars, an increase of about 1,200 vehicles over the same time last year, according to the California Air Resources Board.

The grants are part of a $384 million spending plan, approved in October, to accelerate zero-emission transportation.

The plan includes:

  • $132.9 million for light-duty EV charging infrastructure.
  • $129.8 million for medium- and heavy-duty ZEVs and infrastructure.
  • $70 million for hydrogen refueling infrastructure.
  • $25 million for zero-and near-zero-carbon fuel production and supply.
  • $10 million for recovery and reinvestment.
  • $9 million for ZEV manufacturing.
  • $7.5 million for workforce development.

The plan focuses on closing gaps in zero-emission fuels and infrastructure to support Gov. Gavin Newsome’s executive order phasing out the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger vehicles by 2035. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are an important part of the state’s work to achieve its climate change goals, improve air quality, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The grants are intended to help station developers achieve economies of scale and reduce equipment costs by offering the remaining funding the CEC has and expects to have available for hydrogen refueling infrastructure through the end of the Clean Transportation Program on January 1, 2024, subject to future appropriations and Clean Transportation Program Investment Plan funding allocations, the CEC spokesperson said.

In its 2030 vision statement, which envisions a self-sustaining market, the partnership set a goal of 1,000 hydrogen stations serving one million or more cars, buses and trucks by 2030, Malone said.

“One thousand stations is possible with the right policies in place,” Malone said. “One of these policies is already in place – the Low Carbon Fuel Standard capacity credit for ZEV infrastructure – encourages building capacity in anticipation of near-future need. We are currently working with our members to identify policies that will help spur acceleration of this market.”