Some hydrogen car owners are still waiting for the future to arrive

“There’s a huge, beautiful, red paperweight in our path,” Snell says.

Snell is one of many hydrogen fuel-cell car owners in California facing difficulties as a confluence of unfortunate events — technological limitations, rising station operating costs, policy changes, even Ukraine Russian invasion – has increased hydrogen fuel prices and taken over hydrogen fueling stations. offline.

About 12,000 fuel-cell electric vehicles, powered by hydrogen instead of gas or pure electricity, were on the road in california in 2022, where most of the country’s FCEV drivers live. (Only one other state, Hawaii, also has a publicly available hydrogen fueling station.) American drivers bought about 3,000 cars Last yearAccording to an industry group.

FCEV drivers who spoke to WIRED reported that they like their cars, which offer a smooth, comfortable ride and tech features, and are available at a lower price than competing vehicles when purchased, new or used. All three automakers (Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda) that sell vehicles in California offer a $15,000 fuel card with each purchase as an added bonus. Some drivers told WIRED that their FCEVs fit well into their lives, because they live near frequent refueling stations, can rely on a second car if prices get too expensive, or don’t drive at all. . But others say they can’t keep the cars running.

“We are suffering from premature deployment,” says Robin Gaster, a public policy researcher and senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, who recently published a Report on Clean Hydrogen Policy, He argues that policymakers and car companies were too quick to launch unproven hydrogen fuel technology.

Sacramento resident Scott Werntz and his wife Lori purchased a Toyota Mirai in the fall of 2022. The rebate and included fuel card made the car feel like a great deal. But last year the couple had to wait in line, sometimes for more than an hour, to refuel their car. Once, they had to tow their vehicle after a local fuel-cell station was closed while they were waiting to refuel. Now, he says, he relies on a second car and free rentals from Toyota to get around.

Toyota spokesman Josh Burns said the company is aware of the refueling issues in the state. “We are committed to working with stakeholders to support California’s hydrogen refueling infrastructure now and in the future,” he wrote in an email. He said the company is working with Mirai owners to help on a case-by-case basis.

A Hyundai spokesperson referred WIRED to Bill Elrick, executive director of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership, who wrote that the Shell hydrogen shutdown “will cause temporary challenges,” but the new vehicles, funding and infrastructure have the group optimistic. . Honda spokesman Carl Pulley said the company has invested in hydrogen fuel infrastructure in California and highlighted the CRV e:FCEV, a new fuel-cell vehicle expected to debut this year.

Shell Hydrogen spokeswoman Anna Arata wrote in a statement that the company aims to “be more disciplined in our delivery” and intends to invest $1 billion in hydrogen and carbon-capture storage technology this year and next.

In many ways, fuel-cell electric vehicles are an attractive option for car buyers who want to reduce their carbon footprint. A green alternative to internal combustion engine cars, they are powered by compressed hydrogen, which is converted into electricity by onboard fuel cells.

Where battery electric vehicle technology falters, hydrogen excels. The fuel is abundant, light, emission-free and theoretically cheap – attractive to those frustrated by the tricky state of the electric vehicle battery supply chain. Filling up a car with hydrogen is quick, similar to filling up with gas compared to waiting anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours at an EV charging station. And FCEVs have long ranges, traveling up to 400 miles on a single tank.

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