There has been a spate of announcements from major car manufacturers in recent times detailing their plans to electrify their future vehicles. General Motors recently announced its “path to zero emissions” plan which includes the introduction of at least 20 electric vehicles by 2023. They are joining Volvo, Volkswagen, Toyota and others in making such an announcement.
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are just starting to enter the market but they have a long way to go before they can even catch up with their battery-powered counterparts. Powering cars with hydrogen has the advantage that fueling the vehicle is much like what we are used to: pull up to the pump, fill your tank for a few minutes, and drive off.
2016 is the first year that hydrogen fuel cell cars are available to the general public. There aren’t very many of them as yet, but Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all have fuel cell vehicles on the market. All these companies are betting on hydrogen-powered cars as the future of personal transportation.
Right now, California is where almost all the action is for fuel cell cars but even there, there are only a handful of hydrogen fueling stations. The automakers are providing a great incentive to owners of their fuel cell cars: free hydrogen for the first couple of years. But free or not, it has to be available.
There are plans to build many more hydrogen fueling stations in California, but one problem is that it takes quite a while to commission new stations. Every car manufacturer has to perform validation tests that take weeks. As a result, it can take months to bring stations online.
California hopes to bring online a network of more than 50 stations by the end of 2016, mostly in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to a new device developed by Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this rapid deployment of new stations now looks possible.
It is called the Hydrogen Station Equipment Performance device, or HyStEP, and it acts like a surrogate for vehicles and eliminates the need for each manufacturer to test separately. Testing can be done in less than a week.
Streamlining the process for commissioning hydrogen fueling stations is one important step towards building the hydrogen highway.
Photo, posted June 14, 2014, courtesy of Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.