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A hydrogen fueling station in San Francisco. | Photo courtesy of the California Fuel Cell Partnership
A hydrogen refueling dispenser locked onto a fuel cell electric vehicle. | Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory
What’s the difference between a hydrogen refueling dispenser and a traditional gasoline dispenser that you see at your local gas station? Not that much, actually.
A hydrogen refueling dispenser is used to power a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Available in California and the Northeast, FCEVs are zero-emission electric vehicles that have the driving range, ease of refueling, safety, and performance comparable to today’s gasoline vehicles. But instead of using a combustible gas-powered engine, a FCEV carries a fuel cell onboard that uses hydrogen to power an electric motor which makes the car run.
Hydrogen that is used to fuel the vehicle can be made from all domestic energy resources including sustainable and renewable sources. Producing hydrogen and using it in a fuel cell has zero air pollutants and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from well to wheels.
When refueling hydrogen, people notice a few differences from the standard gas-up. The fuel dispenser must first “lock on” to the gas tank before any hydrogen can flow. Hydrogen dispensers also are equipped with safety devices, including breakaway hoses, leak detection sensors, and grounding mechanisms. These controls enhance safety in the case of human error, such as a driver trying to drive away while the dispenser is still connected to the vehicle.
Similar to today’s gasoline vehicles, FCEVs can have a driving range of more than 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen and can refuel in less than five minutes. Because a fuel cell is more than twice as efficient as an internal combustion engine, an FCEV travels farther on that tank of hydrogen than a traditional car would on a tank of gasoline. This means you only need about half the amount of hydrogen, with double the fuel economy. In addition, the cars are all electric but never need to be plugged in, and since the engine is a fuel cell that has no moving parts, you’ll never need to change the oil.
The governors of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have committed to putting 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2025, and FCEVs will be a critical component to reaching this goal.
Retail hydrogen fueling stations are already in operation in California, with funding in place for 100 more. Stations are also in development in the northeastern United States, and many states have started working on individual roadmaps for hydrogen station deployment.