US DoE shifts hydrogen car infrastructure into overdrive

There are 5,800 publicly available EV charging stations in the United States and people say that’s a roadblock to selling more electric vehicles. So imagine the challenge for fuel-cell vehicles: In the whole country, there are just 76 fueling stations (out of 203 worldwide), and most of them are private.

This lack of fueling infrastructure is an obvious, giant hydrogen hurdle that the U.S. Department of Energy, once seen as lukewarm on hydrogen, is now aiming to do something about. This week the DOE launched H2USA, described as a “public-private partnership focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support more transportation energy options for U.S. consumers, including fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).”

Hydrogen fueling station in California (image via California Fuel Cell Partnership)

There’s a whole gaggle of groups and companies involved – the American Gas Association, Association of Global Automakers, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the Electric Drive Transportation Association, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, Hyundai Motor America, ITM Power, Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition, Mercedes-Benz USA, Nissan North America Research and Development, Proton OnSite and Toyota Motor North America.

Four names in particular there stand out immediately: Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota. Yep, the carmakers.

Hyundai in particular is of note here. As we reported not long ago, the Korean company has stepped up in the battle to be the first to get mass produced fuel cell vehicles to market in the 2015-16 range. In February, Hyundai celebrated the first ix35 rolling off the assembly line at Hyundai Plant No. 4 in Ulsan, South Korea. In all, Hyundai said it will build 1,000 ix35 fuel cell vehicles by 2015 “for lease to public and private fleets, primarily in Europe, where the European Union has established a hydrogen road map and initiated construction of hydrogen fueling stations.”

Perhaps H2USA will help get more of those cars to the U.S.?

One things that’s especially interesting about the initiative is its apparent tie-in with the boom in natural gas, courtesy hydraulic fracturing and more widespread use of horizontal drilling. From the DOE:

Through H2USA, industry and government partners will focus on identifying actions to encourage early adopters of fuel cell electric vehicles, conduct coordinated technical and market analysis, and evaluate alternative fueling infrastructure that can enable cost reductions and economies of scale. For example, infrastructure being developed for alternative fuels such as natural gas, as well as fuel cell applications including tri-generation that produce heat, power, and hydrogen from natural gas or biogas, may also provide low cost hydrogen for vehicles. In addition, increased fuel cell deployment for combined heat and power, back-up power systems, and fuel cell forklifts can help pave the way for mainstream hydrogen vehicle infrastructure.


 Pete Danko, EarthTechling