The Dream of a Hydrogen Future? For Some it’s no Longer a Dream

For fifty years we have been hearing about the day that we may drive around in cars that we can drink the exhaust of. For just as long critics have been bashing the idea of a truly renewable mode of personal transportation, these arguments are based around infrastructure cost and the production efficiency of hydrogen. However today we see an unprecedented flourish of FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) around the world.

Global Efforts

“Tokyo’s Olympic Bet on Hydrogen Power” Japan is set to host the 2020 Olympic games as we all know, what most of us might not know is the famous Olympic village that will be 6,000 units strong this year is being designed to operate exclusively on hydrogen power. $350 million has been earmarked by Tokyo mayor Yoichi Masuzoe to pursue this ambitious goal.

“He’s fired up about the benefits this will have for Tokyo’s air quality, resilience to natural disasters, and, most emphatically, the potential to seriously cut contributions to climate change.”-Spector

The nation ranks in the top three for imports of liquefied natural gas, coal, and oil; domestic sources provide less than 9 percent of energy use. The push to move Japan to a hydrogen nation is one that that stems from a desire to be energy independent; not relying on outside energy markets that can shift rapidly without notice.

Germany has been pushing the envelope of what is considered possible in the global community for some time now with its rapidly expanding nation wide hydrogen infrastructure. The most recent breakthrough that has caught attention worldwide is the implementation of the first hydrogen passenger train, the train is currently in testing phase before it opens to the public.

With a top speed of 140 km/h and the added benefit of replacing the smelly noisy diesel, with a silent odorless train the public is happy to wait. With no signs of slowing down and the commitment to transition to renewable energy, the world has been taking notes on how to follow in the footsteps of German innovation.

Local Transformation

In the U.S. California has been at the forefront of FCEV tech, with 26 stations currently open spanning from San Diego to the mountains of Lake Tahoe and another 15 stations under development the range of travel is far from limited. With infrastructure at current levels it’s easy to imagine driving from LA or San Diego up the state to Tahoe for a weekend of shredding some fresh powder.

The high concentration of fueling stations throughout the bay area and greater Los Angeles vicinity make these urban meccas prime locations to roll out the fuel cell initiative. With 1400 FCEVs on the roads of california today the stations that are installed already have a fairly consistent user base. With more stations on the way the area that people can feel comfortable relying on a FCEV for their main mode of transportation will continue to increase. The question is; will the producers of these FCEVs be able to keep up with demand, being that the waiting list for some of these cars already have a two year backlog!

Currently the U.S. produces roughly 9 million metric tons of hydrogen annually or in other terms, enough fuel to power 20–30 million of the 260 million vehicles on the road today. Although the majority of this fuel is made through a process called steam reforming. “This method is used in industries to separate hydrogen atoms from carbon atoms in methane (CH4). But the steam reforming process results in greenhouse gas emissions that are linked with global warming.”- eco global fuels

Companies like truezero, the largest supplier of hydrogen to FCEVs in California decided to focus production on electrolyzing water, the process of running an electric current through water to separate it into hydrogen and oxygen. One third of the hydrogen truezero produces and distributes is made in this fashion. When the electricity for this process comes from solar, wind, or biomass this is what we call fully renewable energy.

As california and the rest of the nation continue to divest from fossil fuels toward clean energy the way that hydrogen is produced will change as well, with more and more being truly renewable energy. By 2020 in California there is expected to be over 10,000 FCEVs on the road being fueled by 70 stations up and down the state.