Fuel cell technology may soon get a jump start in the race for renewable energy vehicles in California.
FirstElement Fuel Inc. is expected to open 19 hydrogen fueling stations throughout California in October 2015, made possible by $27.2 million in grants from the California Energy Commission and a $7.2 million loan from Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM), according to TechCrunch. An additional nine stations are expected to be built with grant funding from California.
Hydrogen has been touted as one of the renewable fuel alternatives to gasoline and diesel. But the lack of public hydrogen fuel stations has been a concern for car manufacturers.
The opening of these additional stations will bring the total number of public stations to 37, which should stimulate the nascent fuel cell vehicle market. Some manufacturers, such as Toyota, already have vehicles in the works, ahead of the planned hydrogen fuel station openings.
The Japanese automaker brought its production Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) to the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival in June as an example of what’s to come with hydrogen fuel technology. According to Toyota, the four-door FCV will be able to travel 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen fuel.
While the current number of stations may be small in comparison to the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations in California, Toyota believes that strategic placement of hydrogen fuel stations could sufficiently serve the needs of fuel cell drivers without having to build as many stations.
"If every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen, we could meet refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently operating in the state.” Bob Carter, senior VP of automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales USA, said at CES 2014 in January.
Other manufacturers such as Hyundai Motor Company (KRX:005380) and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE:HMC) also have their own fuel cell vehicles lined up for release in 2015, which may bolster the growth of the fuel cell vehicle industry.
In addition to competing with traditional gasoline and diesel vehicles, fuel cell vehicles also have to compete with fully electric vehicles. Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) has provided similar “fueling” infrastructure throughout the East Coast and West Coast, where Tesla owners can quickly recharge their vehicle.
But the competition may be beneficial overall for several states including California, which hope to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.