Do hydrogen vehicles have a place in the US?
Although hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) in the USA are still quite expensive, they can refuel faster and have a longer range than electric vehicles (EV), a new energy alternative that some states throughout the country are gradually adopting.
According to a calculation by global consultancy firm McKinsey based on a Hydrogen Council study deemed “Hydrogen, Scaling up”, the transition towards this new alternative energy could actually create US$2.46 trillion in new business.
Moreover, despite much of hydrogen currently being created from fossil fuels, it can also be made by superfluous wind and solar energy and even directly from water vapor in the air, something that could greatly contribute to reducing harmful CO2 emissions.
FCEV does not come without challenges, and among the largest is the need to reduce the cost of fuel cells and vehicles as well as fuel station infrastructure and the energy they provide.
According to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the price of hydrogen in the country is $13.99 per kg (equivalent to $1.23 per liter of gasoline). As the price of gasoline in the U.S. averages some $0.80 per liter, this is not a cost-effective alternative, at least for now.
However, the average per-liter-price of petrol worldwide is $1.15 so other regions of the world such as Europe, where it commonly surpasses $1.50, will likely be eying hydrogen more closely.
Meanwhile, state and federal governments in the U.S. have been creating programs to advance the fuel cell market, most recently being the U.S. Department of Energy earmarking $31 million to advance H2@Scale, a program that researches hydrogen production and utilization in the country.
States ahead of the game
In 2013, eight states formed the Multi-State Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Task Force and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement state ZEV programs that would increase the number of ZEVs by 2025.
The founding states were made up of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, and New Jersey joined up in 2018. The task force released its plans for 2018 to 2021 which includes, among other things, increasing hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Currently, California is leading the nation in hydrogen development and funding. While it has 40 public hydrogen fueling stations to date, it has a goal to reach 200 stations by 2025, according to an announcement made by former California governor Jerry Brown in 2018.
Meanwhile, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Carolina each have one operating public hydrogen fueling station and there are 27 new public stations in development throughout California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
As for vehicles, the Hyundai Tucson FCEV became the first commercially mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the world in 2013. Since then, Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz have entered the market, with others in development.
In 2018, there were 32 fuel cell electric buses operating in the U.S. All but seven of them are in California.
2019 Mirai, Toyota's flagship hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (source: Shutterstock)
Wether or not hydrogen has a place in the U.S. really depends on the upcoming advancements in fuel cell technology, but also in battery-powered electric technology, the later of which has gained quite a bit of ground in the market lately.
Regardless of which dominates the market in the years to come, one thing that does look inevitable is the weaning off of the internal combustion engine.