California is leading the way on hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. The state is expected to have capacity to fuel 250,000 fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) at 176 open-retail hydrogen fueling stations by 2026, according to a recent California Air Resources Board (CARB) report.
The first 100 of those stations have potential to be operational by the end of 2023, the report said. Currently, CARB data says California has nearly 8,000 FCEVs on the road and 48 hydrogen stations that are open to the public.
“These announcements have created an unprecedented outlook for hydrogen fueling station network development in California,” the report said. “By 2026, the total hydrogen fueling capacity in the state would be sufficient for cumulative deployment of approximately 250,000 FCEVs in California.”
Though Dave Clegern, public information officer at CARB, told FreightWaves California doesn’t currently have any public access hydrogen stations for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, he noted that CARB “sees a role for FCEVs in all sectors due to their long-range and fast refueling capability.”
“Deployment of hydrogen-powered fuel cells in these sectors (medium- and heavy-duty) may offer substantial opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, especially near communities that have historically been disproportionally impacted by the emissions of freight movement and other commercial activity,” the report said.
It also said that CARB and California Energy Commission investments in medium- and heavy-duty FCEVs provide “significant potential for air quality improvements in California’s disadvantaged communities.”
Clegern said that light-duty hydrogen technology is much farther along than medium- and heavy-duty hydrogen technology. But, he noted, “there has recently been growing momentum and interest in the technology, not only in California but globally.”
“Achieving economies of scale is potentially one of the most powerful methods for reducing the currently high prices of purchasing and fueling FCEVs,” Clegern said. Because medium- and heavy-duty vehicles consume more fuel per vehicle than passenger vehicles, Clegern noted it could help the hydrogen fuel market achieve economies of scale more quickly.
Firms around the world are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and transportation is often a major focus, said Danny Gomez, managing director of financial and emerging markets at FreightWaves.
“Most carbon reduction plans consider alternative, lower emission fuels in the journey to net-zero, and hydrogen can be a part of those plans if firms are confident that the fueling infrastructure, supply, and costs will support their investments. CARB’s forecast on hydrogen fueling stations is a positive sign for the use of hydrogen as an alternative transportation fuel for firms operating in California,” Gomez said.
CARB recommended that public and private entities “ensure that hydrogen supply, especially renewable hydrogen, does not become a bottleneck to successful hydrogen station network development and operation.”
The report did not mention green hydrogen. Instead, it focused on renewable hydrogen, which includes green hydrogen (produced using electrolysis powered by renewable electricity), hydrogen produced by steam methane reforming of biomethane and the conversion of biomass to hydrogen, Clegern said.
“During the transition [to renewable hydrogen], the efficiency advantage of a FCEV compared to a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle still provides lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions, even with hydrogen derived from steam reforming of fossil natural gas,” Clegern said.
Even when FCEVs are powered by hydrogen produced using natural gas, they are approximately 2.5 times as efficient as conventional vehicles, which reduces GHG emissions by 40% to 50%, according to Clegern.
CARB estimated that FCEVs in California were fueled with hydrogen consisting of 90% and 92% renewable content in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The report said that the California network of hydrogen stations is on track to supply vehicles with at least 40% renewable hydrogen through 2027.
Clean hydrogen currently costs about $5 per kilogram, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), creating major cost barriers. The International Energy Agency estimates that the cost of producing green hydrogen could decrease by 30% by 2030 due to scaling of hydrogen production and declining renewable energy costs.
The DOE recently launched a Hydrogen Earthshot program, with a goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to reach $1 per kilogram by 2030.
“The ultimate goal of California’s zero-emission transportation programs is to reduce greenhouse gas and unhealthy criteria pollutant emissions. On a life-cycle basis, zero-emission vehicle technologies will only be able to deliver on their potential to reduce these emissions as long as their fuel source also achieves these emissions reductions,” Clegern said. “From this perspective, it is imperative that zero-emission fuels ultimately transition to production methods that generate less or even zero greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions.”