AskPatty.com joined General Motors and Clean Energy Fuels Corporation
at a luncheon recently to discuss the first steps in creating a
Hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the Los Angeles area. As part of
this process, Clean Energy will soon open a hydrogen fueling station in
Los Angeles with support from General Motors, and the two companies
will continue to jointly explore opportunities to expand the hydrogen
infrastructure, not just around Los Angeles, but across the United
As the first step in this effort, Clean Energy will add a hydrogen fueling station to its existing compressed natural gas (CNG) facility near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It is expected to be operational by early fall. The hydrogen station will initially be used by drivers taking part in Chevrolet's Project Driveway, the world's largest market test of Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The station will also fuel the fleet of Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles being used to chauffeur Virgin Atlantic airlines' "Upper Class" customers to and from the airport.
In a real-world example of "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?" developing Hydrogen as an alternative fuel system requires concurrent investment in both the vehicular and fueling technologies. Several manufacturers have already developed (or are in the process of designing) hydrogen-powered vehicles for fleets and limited consumer use -- most notably Honda's FCX Clarity, BMW's 7-Series, Toyota's FCHV-adv, GM's Equinox, Ford Focus, and Mercedes A-Class F-cell -- but their mainstream use is hampered by the limited availability of hydrogen stations in urban areas.
Clean Energy station, to be located at 104th and Aviation, will feature
a 700-millibar quick-fill system and can store 350 Kilograms of
Hydrogen. It is one of only three 700-bar stations available in the Los
Angeles area (the other two are located in Irvine and Burbank). In
addition to these high-capacity stations, several smaller 350-bar
stations are being developed by Shell Oil in the next few months to
help create a "mini network" of hydrogen filling stations that will
hopefully help encourage additional production of fuel cell vehicles.
The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Equinox vehicles, when filled at a 700-bar station, can store 4 Kilograms of Hydrogen and can travel up to 200 miles on a full fill. Other Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are filled using 350-bar pressure systems to store about half that volume and offer about half that travel range.
What does "bar" measure? In the simplest terms, "bars" are a standard of measuring the amount of pressure required to push the gas into a tank, or the amount of pressure that fuel tank can hold when filled to capacity. Therefore, tanks capable of holding 700 bar can store twice the volume of hydrogen gas of a 350-bar tank. A vehicle with a 700-bar requirement can be filled using a 350-bar pressure system, but the system will only be able to fill the tanks to half their capacity, thus delivering only half the range. Vehicles with 350-bar tanks can only accept fuel through systems designed to deliver 350 bars of pressure.
GM and Clean Energy are discussing potential opportunities to expand this first station into a network of hydrogen fueling stations by leveraging Clean Energy's natural gas fueling expertise as well as the company's the real-world customer experience gained by fueling more than 14,000 vehicles daily at over 170 CNG stations across North America.
"Developing and growing hydrogen infrastructure is vital to GM's efforts to bring larger volumes of fuel cell vehicles to the market," said Mary Beth Stanek, director of energy and environmental policy & commercialization at General Motors. "We're supporting this hydrogen station near LAX because we recognize a critical role for Clean Energy's existing CNG infrastructure in helping expand the hydrogen infrastructure. We expect to learn important lessons from Clean Energy's expertise in developing and operating a network of natural gas fueling stations."
"Working with General Motors in this highly significant project makes great sense," said Andrew J. Littlefair, Clean Energy's president and CEO. "Developing a cost-effective hydrogen infrastructure is a challenge. By leveraging the growing network of natural gas stations, a variety of hydrogen station designs can be introduced to the public. Ultimately, reforming pipeline natural gas to produce hydrogen at our stations may be done inexpensively, thereby taking advantage of the ready infrastructure. This approach can help accelerate a larger-scale deployment of hydrogen vehicles."
With costs to build smaller 350-bar ministations estimated by Shell Oil and the Department of Energy to be about $1.75 million per station, experts predict that an introductory $250 million investment into creating the 100 stations over the next five years could provide the infrastructure required to meet the needs of emerging fleets.
When looking at the bigger picture, a national investment of between $10 billion to $15 billion could establish a refueling infrastructure in the nation's top 100 metro areas. That dollar figure assumes that 240 stations could be located about two miles apart in such major cities as Los Angeles and New York, with additional stations strategically located along the highly traveled destination corridors between major cities. Such an investment is said to be sufficient to power as many as a million Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles.
Clean Energy's 700-bar station near Los Angeles International Airport, and Shell Oil's 350-bar station in Santa Monica are steps on the way to integrating a Hydrogen infrastructure in the Los Angeles area. What's your opinion on the future of Hydrogen fuel in the United States? Do you agree that it's worth the investment to support this alternate fuel infrastructure? If they build it, will you come?