Renewable Hydrogen Must Come First In Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Rollout

Honda Clarity FCX Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

On May 1st 2014, California fired the starter pistol in the race to build a network of hydrogen fueling stations. Announcing $46 million in hydrogen infrastructure grants, the Golden State demonstrated its commitment to fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and a cleaner future. HyGen Industries, one of several companies participating, received funding to build renewable hydrogen fuel stations.

California isn’t alone in supporting FCEVs. Smart auto manufacturers, eyeing zero emission leadership, are gearing up for mass production. Last week, Hyundai’s first hydrogen vehicle shipment arrived in Los Angeles, while Toyota and Honda both have assembly-line models planned for next year’s station rollout.

By 2018, four percent of new California vehicle sales must be zero emission. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have a place in the mix, but range and charging time remain problematic. Enter the fuel cell electric vehicle. Driving range and time spent at the pump are comparable with gasoline vehicles, overcoming the biggest obstacle to mass zero emission vehicle (ZEV) adoption.

NOT SO FAST

While ZEVs herald a seismic shift away from fossil-fuel dependency, all isn’t nirvana in zero-emission land. Battery vehicles use electricity generated from carbon sources, while some FCEV fuel stations use natural gas to create hydrogen.

Despite California’s zero emission regulations, the state doesn’t mandate ZEV fuel come from carbon-free sources. BEV owners have renewable choices though. Progressive utility service areas, like the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, allow residents to purchase renewable electricity. Meanwhile, FCEV owners can seek out sustainable hydrogen stations. These stations purchase renewable electricity and convert water to hydrogen on-site. This method is carbon-free and FCEV owners should insist on fueling at clean hydrogen stations whenever possible.

WHY NOT MAKE ALL HYDROGEN STATIONS CARBON-FREE?

In an ideal world, all hydrogen stations would be renewable; so why make hydrogen from natural gas? It’s a good question which raises another. Why not simply run cars off natural gas? Well, natural gas comes burdened with carbon-based baggage; namely, fracking, storage, transportation and greenhouse gas emission.

HyGen believes carbon-free hydrogen is today’s optimal transportation fuel. Clearly, the number one priority is to transition our fleet from gasoline to fuel cell vehicles. If this means natural gas plays a limited role in the changeover, so be it. A fleet dominated by FCEVs makes legislating in favor of renewables easier, allowing customers to vote with their dollar and buy sustainable hydrogen. HyGen CEO, Paul Staples, said, “We have station partners lined up and intend to raise additional private funding to make clean renewable hydrogen available in more California locations. It’s important to give FCEV owners the choice to avoid carbon based fuels entirely.”

Attitudes are shifting away from continued dependence on carbon-based energy. Each new generation finds atmospheric pollution increasingly unpalatable. Legendary physicist, Max Planck, famously said, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Although Planck referred to a scientific theory, the quote equally applies to our tolerance for environmental damage.

Let’s establish a FCEV fleet. The relentless clamor for carbon-free fuel will do the rest.

About the Author: Paul Dillon is writer and technology entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, California. 

 

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