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How Long Until Hydrogen Is Competitive At The Pump?

Hydrogen might have a way to break through one of the barriers that keeps it from reaching mass-scale adoption for fuel cell electric cars and trucks.

French fuel company Air Liquide just released a new product in the US that can make hydrogen competitive with the average gasoline and diesel fuel station. Its high capacity of 1,000 kg and dual filling positions are capable of fueling 250 vehicles per day.

Compare that to a gas station fueling 800 to 1,000 vehicles a day on average, and it would make hydrogen viable for retail stations that can add up to six of these new dual hydrogen filling pumps. Hydrogen fueling stations that have been installed in the US, Europe, Japan, and South Korea, have been quite limited in available fuel pumps — and the supply of hydrogen.

The French company which supplies industrial gases and services to various industries has already started installing these new stations in Japan, South Korea, and Europe.

Air Liquide’s new technology is able to integrate compression, high pressure storage, and cooling on a single skid. That reduces greenhouse gas emissions and allows for an easier installation. It was also given a compact design to be space efficient, and allow for an easier installation. The announcement followed soon after the French company unveiled the development of its first portable hydrogen station.

Along with pervasive presence, traditional gasoline and diesel stations have been able to keep hydrogen beat on price. California Fuel Cell Partnership explains that hydrogen fuel prices range from $12.85 to more than $16 per kilogram (kg). The most common price being seen at California hydrogen stations is $13.99 per kg (equivalent on a price per energy basis to $5.60 per gallon of gasoline). With the price of gasoline in California averaging $2.86 for regular, gasoline has hydrogen beat by a long shot.

Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda, have been offering three years of hydrogen fuel with their new fuel cell car sales and lease offerings. So far, there have been over 8,000 fuel cell electric vehicles and 41 operating hydrogen stations in California; and not much in the rest of the country. Related: Will There Be Another Oil Price War?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that hydrogen fuel prices may fall to the $10 to $8 per kg range in the 2020 to 2025 period, according to CaFCP. The California agency sees hydrogen needing to come down to that price range to become competitive with gasoline and diesel.

One of the real challenges will be getting enough hydrogen to the fueling station to meet maximum demand. Another hurdle to clear — the actual source of the hydrogen — will be gaining much attention as the world's largest green hydrogen plant makes its way to Lancaster, Calif. 

The production plant just north of Los Angeles will use plastics and recycled paper as a feedstock — waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. It has to be gasified at temperatures of 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit before being converted into hydrogen. 

SGH2 Energy Global, which is part of the Solena Group, has been in charge of the project. It’s been selling the technology on the carbon emissions and cost fronts. The company says that it can reduce emissions two-to-three times more than green hydrogen produced using electrolysis and renewable energy. The company also claims that its five-to-seven times cheaper — and cost competitive with “grey” hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. One of the grey sources, natural gas, makes for most of the hydrogen being used now.

“The beauty here, is that Lancaster will be using this for transportation but it could also be used to generate electricity,” says Robert Do, chief executive of SGH2. “It can be stored and then used for multiple purposes. This will be the first large-scale green hydrogen plant in the world.”

The company’s CEO said the plant will produce as much as 11,000 kg of green hydrogen per day, and 3.8 million kg per year. That would be about three times more than any existing or planned green hydrogen facility.

The US Department of Energy continues to support hydrogen through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) — gaining support from the Trump administration and two presidents before him. The EERE just announced that about $20 million will be available in small business awards, and three projects have been awarded funds supported by the agency’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

Alchemr, of Boca Raton, Fla., will develop and test a hydrogen production system that can enable chemical and fuels manufacturing as well as increased use of offshore wind energy. Giner, of Newton, Mass., will develop a cost model and design requirements for a wind-to-hydrogen generation system that could justify transmitting hydrogen from offshore windfarms instead of electricity. Greenway Energy, of Aiken, SC, will develop and test a new, low-cost, and efficient electrolysis system that can be directly coupled with wind turbine power.

In January, the Department of Energy said that an additional $64 million is available in funding that will support “transformational research and development.” The goal here is developing hydrogen concepts that will encourage market expansion and increase the scale of hydrogen production, storage, transport, and use.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors. More