Aside from the price of the hydrogen fuel cell alone, another obstacle to a hydrogen future would have to be the lack of infrastructure.
If you have a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, you have to stay pretty close to one of the less-than-500 hydrogen fuel stations in the world. For that reason, these vehicles have been relegated to a university researchers and private fleets. What if General Motors is right, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles start production by 2016? Where will they refuel? They won’t be able to refuel at the fleet operations. Of course, the development of hydrogen infrastructure will begin much like gasoline did one hundred years ago, or electric right now.
Tesla Motors has been rolling out the Tesla Supercharger network across the United States and some parts of Europe, at a cost of around $250,000 each. Hydrogen fuel stations cost up to $3 million to install, which makes them a far more touchy subject when it comes to infrastructure expansion. What if there was another solution? The Hydrogen Education Foundation (HEF), by way of a student design contest, believes it may be able to come up with a solution for a new hydrogen future.
According to HEF, “One way to address the problem is the development of low-cost drop-in fueling stations that require minimal setup, operation, and expense, to meet the initial demand for fueling in areas that do not have a well-developed hydrogen fueling infrastructure,” which is pretty much everywhere. HEF goes on to say, “The development of a fueling station module that provides a positive fueling experience while being able to be mass produced could potentially have a game-changing effect on traditional hydrogen fueling station development plans.”
The 2014 Hydrogen Student Design Contest will challenge undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students to design low-cost, low-maintenance, efficient, and mobile hydrogen fuel stations.