FAQ

H2USA Background
01.What is H2USA?

H2USA is a public-private partnership to promote the commercial introduction and widespread adoption of hydrogen fueled fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) across America.  H2USA’s mission is to address hurdles to establishing hydrogen fueling infrastructure, enabling the large scale adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles.

The launch of H2USA was announced on May 13, 2013. Today, H2USA includes more than 30 businesses and organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy, automakers, fuel cell suppliers, materials and component manufacturers, energy companies, national laboratories, associations and NGOs. Click here for a list of participants.

02.Why is H2USA needed?

H2USA will work to accelerate the large scale adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles by helping to establish a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and move the United States toward greater energy, environmental and economic security.

The United States is facing serious and growing challenges involving petroleum reliance. According to the United States Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. transportation sector depends on petroleum for 97% of its fuel and accounts for more than 69% of all petroleum products used in the United States. Although the U.S. is currently reducing its oil imports, DOE projects that the nation “will continue to rely on imports for 35% to 40% of our petroleum needs in the future.” Strategic and economic security vulnerabilities, as well as the impact of transportation-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, make increased fuel diversity a national imperative.

FCVs are a critical component of an “all-of-the-above” approach to provide clean transportation powered by non-petroleum energy sources and to establish U.S. leadership in the global marketplace for clean energy technologies.

03.Why do we need FCVs and hydrogen infrastructure?

Clean and efficient FCVs are fueled by hydrogen, which can be derived from diverse and domestic energy sources. Relying on fuel cells to power electric motors, FCVs produce only water vapor, which is released from the tailpipe. They can meet many drivers’ operational expectations with a 300-500 mile range and fast fueling. FCVs are about two times more efficient than conventional gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine vehicles. (Specifically Toyota estimates 2.11 and the DOE Fuel Cell Technology Office estimates 2.21 times the efficiency of a conventional gasoline fueled LDV).

Fuel cells are also the most efficient vehicular use of domestic natural gas. FCVs running on hydrogen made from natural gas can travel further than vehicles using the same quantity of natural gas in natural gas-fueled internal combustion engines.

On a life cycle basis, FCVs also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to internal combustion vehicles operating on hydrocarbon fuels. Mid-size FCVs using hydrogen derived from natural gas generate less than half of the CO2 of today’s gasoline-fueled vehicles. When using hydrogen generated from solar or wind electrolysis, total lifecycle CO2 emissions are near zero.

In addition to federal requirements for reduced vehicle emissions, state and regional commitments to increase zero emission vehicle use will require FCVs to become an increasingly significant portion of the vehicle mix. California, and nine other states adopting the Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) program, requires major light duty vehicle manufacturers to produce and deliver increasing numbers of ZEVs for sale in their states. Simultaneously, seven states (Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont) have joined California in a Memorandum of Understanding to establish policies that will place 3.3 million ZEVs on the road by 2025.

Beyond energy security and environmental benefits, the development of fuel cell electric vehicle and hydrogen infrastructure industries will yield economic benefits. For instance, it has been estimated that building 100 hydrogen fueling stations in California could add more than 2,000 jobs. Expanding the infrastructure effort across the country, as well as growing vehicle and fuel cell manufacturing, will amplify these economic returns.

Compared to other advanced power train technologies, such as hybrid electric vehicle (HEVs), plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), Battery Electric Vehicle (BEVs), or clean-diesel, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles provide a unique set of benefits. They produce only water, which is released from the tailpipe. They are capable of rapid fueling and have a 300-mile range. Fuel cell electric vehicles also have the ability to use renewable or domestic energy resources, provide full performance in all ambient conditions, and are scalable to provide best-in-class fuel efficiency for vehicles of all sizes, compact to heavy duty.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Basics
04.What are fuel cell vehicles (FCVs)?

FCVs and BEVs are “electric drive vehicles,” that is, propulsion is provided entirely by electric motors. A FCV generates electricity from hydrogen stored onboard the vehicle to power electric motors.  BEVs use electricity stored in batteries. Fuel cells power both on- and off-road vehicles, including cars, buses, trucks, and industrial vehicles, such as forklifts and airport ground support equipment.

Both fuel cells and batteries provide electricity through chemical reactions. Using stored chemical reactants, a battery needs to be recharged or replaced when the reactants are depleted. In fuel cells, the reactants (hydrogen and oxygen) are stored externally (hydrogen on board the vehicle and oxygen in the atmosphere). As long as the fuel cell has a fuel supply and an oxygen supply, a fuel cell will produce electricity.

05.When will FCVs be available to U.S. car buyers?

A number of the world’s leading automotive companies plan to begin commercial production of FCVs starting in 2014-2017. Today, hundreds of FCVs are on the road in demonstration programs or under lease to customers.

Hyundai has begun producing a FCV SUVs, the Tucson/Model ix35, for lease in Southern California starting in spring 2014. Toyota has also announced plans to start sales of their FCV in 2015. Nissan, Renault, Daimler and Ford are jointly developing a common fuel cell system to produce an affordable, mass-market FCV as early as 2017. General Motors and Honda are sharing expertise and business strategies to develop a next generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies for the 2020 timeframe. BMW and Toyota have joint long-term strategic agreements to develop fuel cell stacks, systems, hydrogen tanks, motors, and batteries, with the goal of commercialization by 2020.

06.How much will FCVs cost?

While prices for specific models have not been announced, automakers have affirmed that they will be competitively priced for the consumer market. Federal and state tax and other incentives may also be available for FCV purchasers.

Hydrogen Fuel and Hydrogen Infrastructure Basics
07.Where does hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen, like electricity, is an energy carrier rather than an energy resource.  Both electricity and hydrogen can be produced from all energy resources available (including, natural gas, petroleum products, coal, solar energy, wind, biomass, and others). Hydrogen and electricity can be made from GHG- neutral sources, addressing climate change and urban air quality problems.  Also as with electricity, hydrogen can be made from sustainable domestic and renewable energy resources, which enhances our long term energy security.

Because hydrogen is an energy carrier, it is not consumed; it is only used.   For example, hydrogen can be produced by splitting water (H2O) into two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.  The oxygen produced in this reaction is released into the atmosphere and the hydrogen is stored in a tank. This stored hydrogen can then be used to fill up a FCV.  When the FCV is in operation, its fuel cell takes the hydrogen stored on board, as well as oxygen from the atmosphere, and produces electric power (to power the vehicle’s electric motors), water and heat.  None of the oxygen, hydrogen and water is consumed in this process. The same amount of hydrogen, oxygen and water exist at the end of the process as at the beginning.

08.How is hydrogen produced today and where is it used?

Millions of metric tons of hydrogen are produced annually in the United States, which is enough to fuel tens of millions of FCVs. The current primary uses for hydrogen, however, are for the petroleum, ammonia for fertilizer, chemical, and food industries.

Today, 95% of the hydrogen produced in the United States is made by industrial-scale natural gas reformation. This process is called fossil fuel reforming or steam methane reformation (SMR). The process takes natural gas (NG) and steam and generates a product stream of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2). Large-scale SMR is an efficient process at more than 70% thermal efficiency.

Greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided completely if the CO2 produced in SMR is captured and stored, in a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). As sustainable renewable energy generation advances in the United States, it is anticipated low to zero carbon hydrogen production will also become more commonplace.

09.Is hydrogen safe?

FCVs and the fueling stations to supply the hydrogen will be just as safe as conventional systems today.

Hydrogen has been safely produced and used in the U.S. industrial sector for more than half a century.  As with every fuel, safe handling practices are required but hydrogen is non-toxic and does not pose a threat to human or environmental health if released.

Hydrogen codes and standards are in place at the national level ensure that hydrogen fueling stations are as safe as their gasoline counterparts. These national codes and standards are being adopted at the local and regional level.

All FCVs have to meet the same rigorous federal safety standards that apply to all consumer vehicles. In addition to meeting those standards, vehicle manufacturers are also participating in additional pre-market safety testing in cooperation with the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

10.How will the cost of hydrogen compare to gasoline?

Based on current analysis, the cost of hydrogen will be comparable to gasoline, on a per-mile basis. As infrastructure develops and volumes increase, costs will further decrease and hydrogen will be cheaper than gasoline.

Establishing Robust Hydrogen Infrastructure in the United States
11.How many hydrogen fueling stations will be needed in the U.S. to establish a robust infrastructure network?

While it is too early in the development of the FCV market to identify an exact number, the goal is to establish a sufficient number of strategically located stations to meet consumer expectations  for location, convenience and availability. These strategically located stations will establish coverage to enable the market deployment of FCVs. As the market matures, increased numbers of hydrogen stations will serve a growing demand from the FCV fleet to provide the needed capacity.

The California Fuel Cell Partnership offers the following assessment of their state’s initial hydrogen infrastructure needs: 68 stations will be needed by 2016 to serve the initial deployment of 20,000 FCVs expected in California. These stations will be focused in five major “geographic clusters” (Santa Monica/West Los Angeles, Southern Orange County, Torrance and vicinity, Berkeley and Southern San Francisco Bay Area) with minimum connector and destination stations built to establish a regional network. These 68 strategically sited stations will satisfy customers’ need for stations located within 6 minutes of home, work and leisure activities.

The California Fuel Cell Partnership model, including the strategic placement of stations and ratio of stations to vehicles, may not be directly applicable in others states. However, the model demonstrates that hydrogen stations do not need to be built on the same scale as the current gasoline infrastructure to support the coverage required for initial introduction of FCVs.

12.Is establishing a hydrogen infrastructure cost effective?

Yes. The infrastructure requirements for hydrogen are similar to the requirements for compressed natural gas (CNG) infrastructure currently being developed to serve natural gas vehicles. Assuming a 100,000 mile-lifetime for a FCEV, estimates for the roll-out of a hydrogen infrastructure in a mature market range from $1000 to $2600 per vehicle, or about $0.01 to $0.03 per mile.

The cost of hydrogen infrastructure, along with the cost of hydrogen, is steadily declining and, in a mature market, is estimated to be similar to BEV charging infrastructure on a per-vehicle basis. Indeed, in a mature market when the fueling station business model returns a profit to the station owner the infrastructure will grow with the increased demand without further government support.

13.How much will the initial startup of a hydrogen infrastructure for coverage cost?

The building of the hydrogen fueling infrastructure during the initial stages to establish the needed coverage is not as expensive as one might think. According to McKenzie, the societal cost for deploying a H2 infrastructure on a per-vehicle basis is similar to that of BEV recharging infrastructure. Early stations may not reach profitability until the FCV market grows and more vehicles are on the road. However, it is generally recognized that these early “coverage” stations need to be put in place before the market of FCVs is established. Energy Independence Now studied the issue for the State of California. Government support is essential in the early stages of the infrastructure roll out. California has committed $20 million per year for the next 10 years to help support the initial construction of 68 stations for coverage, followed by an additional 32 stations for capacity growth (a total of 100 stations). These funds will also help support the stations’ operations and maintenance to ensure their operations during the early stages of the infrastructure build out. It is assumed that the early “coverage” stations (0<68) will service up to 20,000 FCVs, with 100 stations needed to support 20,000 to 30,000 FCVs. Hyundai recently received over 20,000 lease applications for their FCV vehicle lease program in Los Angeles, which is an indicator of early demand for the vehicles that will utilize the hydrogen infrastructure.

Capital costs in California, where hydrogen infrastructure is being built out today, are estimated from $0.9 million for a 100- to 170 kg/day station, to $1.4 million for a 250 kg/day station for early (2013) market fueling.  For stations built in 2015 to 2017, the capital cost is estimated to be $0.9 million for a 250 kg/day station and $1.5 to $2.0 million for a 400 to 500 kg/day station.

14.What regulatory changes are needed to accelerate the expansion of hydrogen infrastructure?

Much has been learned in the development of early hydrogen facilities through private and public collaboration including the industry’s work with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office.  Defensible and technically sound model codes have been developed and adopted at the national level. While codes will continue to evolve with the technology, they are already facilitating deployment of hydrogen infrastructure as they are being adopted and implemented at the local level.

While the process for permitting and construction of a hydrogen fueling station is similar to the process for a gasoline fueling station, local authorities having jurisdiction will need education about hydrogen behavior and about national hydrogen-related codes.

Also, as hydrogen and gasoline have different properties, the fueling stations will have different designs.  It is expected that there will be municipal variations in permitted procedures, design specifications and installations. However, station developers are moving away from unique station designs toward more standardized facilities to streamline local permitting and construction processes.

Modifications to dealerships facilitating FCV vehicle maintenance are also being pursued.  As with fueling stations, education of local authorities about the vehicles, fuel and updated codes and standards are key to efficient deployment of FCVs.