Every eco-warrior hopes to see a future that includes environmentally-friendly vehicles. When you currently think of more sustainable options, what likely comes to mind are electric vehicles, which are able to use electricity to move a vehicle. Another common option is ethanol-powered vehicles, which can be fueled using ethanol made from ‘energy crops’ such as field corn. One may even think of hybrid engines that can use both gas and electricity, which helps reduce emissions and also makes it easier to rely on in a world where our fueling stations are predominantly fossil-fuel-based.
Though these are the most common and popular options currently across the country, another possible alternative that is expanding and creating more fueling stations is fuel cell vehicles which are powered electrically using hydrogen.
Fuel Cell Vehicles
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles are cars that are electrically powered but are refilled using hydrogen. The hydrogen added to the tank, similarly to refilling your car with gas, will combine with oxygen drawn from the surrounding atmosphere. The two elements combine to form water, the byproduct of which is electricity which is sent to the electric motor to power the vehicle. These zero-emission vehicles could be the solution to replace fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the future.
Current Fuel Cell Stations
In order for the use of these vehicles to become a realistic and viable alternative for fossil fuel-powered vehicles, vehicle owners will need an abundance of fuel stations where they can refill their cars with hydrogen. To combat this obstacle, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched H2USA, which is a public-private collaboration between different sectors such as federal agencies, hydrogen providers, automakers, fuel cell developers, National Laboratories, etc. This collaborative project is tasked with advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support alternative transportation options.
There are currently 46 open fuel cell stations in the United States. Of those stations, 45 are located in California and 1 is located in Hawaii. The U.S. Department of Energy has also created the Alternative Fuel Station Locator, a digital map that allows one to easily locate an alternative fuel station of their choice. Users are able to narrow their search based on their fuel of choice ranging from ethanol to biodiesel to hydrogen.
The creation and expansion of hydrogen fuel cell stations is essential and the work is already underway. In December of 2020, the CEC (California Energy Commission) approved plans to invest $115 million to increase the number of fueling stations that support hydrogen fueling cells. Under their current plan, up to 111 new fueling stations could be built in the state by 2027. The plan supports Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to phase out the sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
According to a statement from the CEC’s Commissioner, Patty Monahan, “We are proud to support these important infrastructure projects to ensure fueling is available as more Californians choose clean cars and trucks…As the zero-emission vehicle market grows, drivers need to feel confident that they can refuel their vehicles, whether they are downtown or driving across the state.”
Among the many fueling stations under construction currently is the Toyota Tri-Gen Station, which is set to be the world’s largest 100% renewable hydrogen fueling station. The fuel station will be mega-watt scale and is expected to generate 2.35 megawatts of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen per day once it’s operational. In addition to generating fuel, the station will also supply the Toyota fuel cell vehicles moving through the port. This includes the new Mirai vehicle as well as the Project Portal.
There are also future plans to expand the use of fuel cell vehicles abroad. In December 2020, German technology company Bosch announced their plans to begin the full-scale production of distributed fuel cell power stations in 2024. They have several intended uses for their fuel cell power, including powering vehicles, homes, factories, cities, etc. According to Clean Energy Wire, the company is aiming for an annual SOFC production capacity of 200 megawatts, which is enough to supply 400,000 people with energy in their homes. They have also estimated that the market for decentralized power generation will reach a value of 20 billion euros by 2030.