Fuel Cell Vehicle Myth Seven – Hydrogen Fuel Stations are Too Expensive!

Myth - Hydrogen Fuel Cell Refueling Stations are Too Expensive!
Myth – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Refueling Stations are Too Expensive!

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, just like hybrid electric vehicles and conventional vehicles, would require refueling stations, but aren’t they too expensive to build?

Like all vehicles on the road today, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles store their fuel onboard, but needs to get that fuel from somewhere else. Some have asked, much like the chicken-and-the-egg conundrum, whether the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or hydrogen fueling stations would come first. Of course, then we wonder how much it costs to build a hydrogen fuel station. According to a September 2013 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report on the subject, “Hydrogen Station Cost Estimates,” the costs are not at all prohibitive.

For example, a 2009 hydrogen fuel station installed in Newport Beach, with a capacity just 100 kg/d (kilograms per day) cost a little over $4 million to build, a little over $40,000/kg/d (dollar per kilograms per day capacity). Part of that major expense has to do with the fact that this station generates its own hydrogen fuel via onsite SMR (steam methane reforming). Just a few years later, the much-cheaper Linde station, whose hydrogen fuel is delivered by truck, was built for about $2.6 million, just $7,500/kg/d. In any case, servicing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles isn’t that much more expensive than conventional vehicles, new gasoline stations costing about $2 million, and those costs are dropping every year.

It all has to do with economies of scale, and we’d expect mass-production to bring costs down naturally, while being more profitable for the builder. Take, for example, the 1909 Ford Model T runabout, which started at $825 ($19,861 in 2014 dollars). In just a few years, the 1916 Model T was selling for just $345 ($8,305 today), which would be like buying a Tesla Roadster, originally priced at $109,000, for just $48,819, that is, if Tesla Motors produced millions of Tesla Roadsters.

According to the NREL, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle infrastructure will progress in much the same way. Today, for example, total hydrogen fuel capacity is just barely over 4,000 kg/d, the average cost of which is around $15,700/kg/d. By the end of the decade, analysis suggests that hydrogen fueling capacity will top 100,000 kg/d and hydrogen fueling stations will probably dip to around $4,000/kg/d, or as little as $400,000 for some smaller stations.

Images © Olathe Toyota Parts Center

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