Despite the clear environmental benefits that Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) offer, manufacturers are reluctant to invest in their development and commercialisation if there aren’t enough hydrogen refuelling stations to serve them.
But by the same token, investors are reluctant to build refuelling stations if there aren’t enough vehicles on the roads to utilise them. That is the much-talked-about chicken and egg dilemma put simply; and until solved, it will remain one of the major hurdles to widespread hydrogen mobility. “It’s the curse of any nascent industry and hydrogen mobility is no different,” explains Thomas Schaefer, Global Market Development Manager, Linde Hydrogen FuelTech. “Right now, costs are high but demand is low. Bridging this initial critical period is vital for success – especially when a carbon-neutral future is at stake.”
Thankfully, California might just be about to crack it. A set of regulatory amendments has recently come into effect that will likely spur the development of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure (HRI). As a provider of unrivalled hydrogen refuelling technology, Linde is fully prepared to meet an increased demand for stations and equipment in California as well as in other world regions.
»Bridging this initial critical period is vital for success – especially when a carbon-neutral future is at stake.«
Credit where credit’s due
Linde’s latest tech is already up and running in True Zero’s HRS in California. Image: True Zero
The amendments, approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and in effect as of January 1st 2019, refer to updates to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) regulation. The LCFS is the system whereby station owners generate credits which can be sold to offset their costs. Now, station owners will not only be credited for dispensed fuel but more importantly, for installed but unused station capacity.
It’s another forward-thinking move to support California’s valiant quest for ubiquitous uptake of zero-emission vehicles, which dates back to 2013. Back then, Assembly Bill 8 directed the California Energy Commission to allocate $20 million annually from the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) fund to the development of 100 publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations. Just over a year ago, in January 2018, Executive Order B-48-18 raised the bar: 200 stations by 2025 and five million ZEVs on The Golden State’s roads by 2030.
It’s a tall order: especially with investors’ reluctance to build refuelling stations that are destined to be underutilised at least for the initial period. As a profitable endeavour, the numbers simply don’t stack up. Some sort of incentive is required – and that’s exactly what this update provides.
The capacity to endure
In practice, it means investors can get through the so called “death valley”. Whereas before it became difficult to continue operating a station that was dispensing very little fuel, the update means station owners can ensure a revenue stream based on this unused capacity. HRI credits can be earned for up to 15 years during which time they can be sold to the market as owners wait for throughput to increase.
The result is the potential to fund more stations, but also to purchase the necessary HRI equipment in bigger quantities – as Schaefer explains. “Before, investors may have erred on the side of caution by building small-scale stations. This update provides the incentive to think big and build high-capacity, future-proofed stations thus helping to match the steadily growing number of FCEVs.”
»This update provides the incentive to think big and build high-capacity, future-proofed stations thus helping to match the steadily growing number of FCEVs.«
»California is leading the way with public funding and progressive action that incentivises private investment«
Following the leader
This potential for more high throughput stations positions Linde as the obvious choice of technology partner. Higher capacity calls for economic hydrogen storage solutions and the best way to store large amounts of hydrogen is in liquid form. This is where Linde’s expertise and innovative solutions are second to none. Central to that USP is the highly efficient Cryo Pump 3.0, designed for 400 kilograms per day. In fact, this liquid hydrogen pump and storage system is already in use in several of the 19 fully retail hydrogen stations in California operated by Linde’s partner, True Zero – with 12 more on the way.
“California is leading the way with public funding and progressive action that incentivises private investment,” explains Schaefer. “This, combined with the latest technology gives hydrogen mobility the best chance to develop; which could be our best chance of a zero-emission future.”
It is only appropriate that this hydrogen mobility mecca is about to play host once again to the 2019 edition of the Shell Eco Marathon Americas competition. As teams are showcasing clean mobility to the track-side audience at the Sonoma racetrack from April 3-6, California continues to showcase it to the rest of the world.