The hydrogen highway is simply a linked network of hydrogen filling stations suitable for fuel cell vehicles or H2 combustion engine vehicles. As with electricity charging points, the provision of a suitable infrastructure is seen as vital for the market deployment of existing and future fuel cell vehicles such as the Riversimple Urban open source designed car.
The examples of such highways around the world are growing, with the latest addition being that from Wales and the south of England along the M4 corridor. Key developments include:
- In Norway, a highway from Oslo to Stavanger covering 600km (reportedly the longest in the world) as part of the broader HyNor project, with 7 fuelling stations.
- Sweden and Denmark are constructing their elements of the wider Scandinavian Hydrogen Highway Partnership, to link up with Norway. By 2015 the aim is to have some 20 main stations and 15 ‘satellite’ stations in operation supporting about 100 buses, 500 cars and 500 speciality vehicles.
- In British Columbia, from Victoria to Whistler covering 180km and in use by the fuel cell buses of BC Transit, with additional ‘mobile’ refuelling stations planned for the Winter Olympics.
- In Japan there are 12 stations sited within 11 cities, although they do not really comprise a highway system yet.
- California has the most substantially developed network with two major clusters around Los Angeles and San Francisco to Sacramento. There are over 25 refuelling stations.
- In South Korea 10 stations operational at the end of 2009 are to be augmented by a further 10 in 2010, mostly clustered in the north west of the country around Seoul and Incheon.
- In Germany there are over 30 stations. In late 2009 Daimler, EnBW, Linde, OMV, Shell, Total, Vattenfall and the NOW GmbH National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology announced ambitious plans for major expansion by 2015.
Given the price of hydrogen in Norway, and the typical distance that can be covered by a relatively large, heavy car converted to fuel cell use, the cost per kilometre is close to that of petrol. If renewable sources are used to create the hydrogen, then the prospect is for cheap, low carbon fuel in the future.
Compared with battery electric and hybrid vehicles, fuel cell vehicles have been given scant attention over the last few years. But, these vehicles have not gone away and neither have the plans for support infrastructures. Perhaps with more realism and pragmatism than evident in the halcyon days of fuel cell interest, the schemes outlined above indicate a meaningful, if sparse and geographically constrained, network to support fuel cell cars will be in place by 2015. Local clusters are already operational, albeit on a small scale.
As the initiative from Wales shows, governments are increasingly keen to capture a share of the industrial and economic value added in the fuel cell vehicle world, and are prepared to invest ahead of demand in order to do so. More slowly than first anticipated, but more surely nonetheless, hydrogen highways are becoming a reality.
Dr Peter Wells is a Reader at Cardiff Business School, where he is a Co-Director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research and leads the automotive industry research programme within BRASS, also in Cardiff University. Dr Wells is also a director of AutomotiveWorld.com’s sister website AWPresenter.com. He can be contacted on email@example.com.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.