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The biggest hurdles to the widespread adoption of hydrogen-powered cars are the cost of building such vehicles and the lack of refuelling infrastructure, which imposes severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.
At the latest count, there were just 70 hydrogen stations worldwide that are “in principle” open to the public, according to the website H2stations.org.
Development is slow with just 11 new stations added across the globe in 2013, bringing the total number of outlets to 186 as of March 2014 – the majority of them dedicated field testing facilities.
Makers of electric vehicles face the same “chicken-and-egg” dilemma, which is a huge source of frustration to supporters of green vehicle technology. If more people bought cars that used alternative fuel, then more filling stations would open to serve them and economies of scale would help drive down the costs of the vehicles.
Denmark became the first country to lay claim to establishing a national network with plans to add four new hydrogen filling stations this year to its existing two outlets. Six filling stations are enough to provide national coverage, based on a range of 500km between refills.
The furthest a driver would need to go before reaching a filling station in Denmark with the six stations open is 370km, according to the organisation behind the rollout, Copenhagen Hydrogen Network, a joint venture between Air Liquide, the gas supplier, and H2 Logic, a manufacturer of hydrogen filling stations.
Germany, Japan and the US state of California are also leading the way in looking to expand their filling station networks. In Germany, a partnership of six companies – Air Liquide, Daimler, Linde, ÖMV, Shell and Total – set out plans last year to expand the network of hydrogen filling stations from 15 to 400 by 2023. Thomas Weber, head of research at Mercedes-Benz cars, said that if that target were hit by 2023, it would mean hydrogen filling stations would outnumber conventional petrol stations along the German autobahn (motorway) network.
In Japan, the target is to build 100 hydrogen filling stations alongside the main roads connecting four of its biggest cities – Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka – by the end of next year.
California’s state’s energy commission announced it was investing nearly $50m to help accelerate a rollout of hydrogen filling stations, adding 28 outlets to the existing 9 and further 17 in the pipeline. The target is to build a 100-station network, which the authorities deem to be the minimum size necessary “to support the full commercialisation” of hydrogen cell technology in the state.
Toyota said on Tuesday that it would partner with Air Liquide to set up an initial network of 12 filling stations across the northeast of the US.