A California Road Trip Proves Hydogen Fuel Cell Service Infrastructure Is Now In Place

Tyson Eckerle

Over the last decade, significant efforts by leaders in Sacramento, automobile manufacturers, and hydrogen-fueling station developers have laid the foundation for a statewide infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  California now leads the nation in developing fueling stations, with 17 retail stations open now and more than 30 more in development. In April, leaders from the public and private sector showed off the readiness of this advanced technology by driving from Santa Monica to Sacramento in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. VX News presents an excerpt of remarks from the event, featuring Tyson Eckerle (ZEV Infrastructure Deputy Director for the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development), Mary Nichols (CARB Chair); Janea Scott (CEC Commissioner); Tony Vasquez (Mayor of Santa Monica); Dr. Clark Parker (South Coast AQMD Board Member); and Shane Stephens (True Zero co-founder).

Mary Nichols: Today’s drive up the Interstate 5 from Santa Monica to Sacramento is designed to show off the fact that we now have fueling stations that will enable a driver of one of these vehicles to make it from the main urban area up to the state capital—and also to have some fun. 

Deploying this technology throughout the state has been a collaborative effort. The manufacturers have done their bit with these amazing cars. Now we’re beginning to see the fueling stations come into place. This technology is just emerging; it’s about where the battery vehicles were three years ago. But soon, it is going to be a successful competitor in the market. Soon, consumers will have choices of clean fuel technologies.

Tyson Eckerle:
I want to underscore that what we’re about to do today took a team effort. We wouldn’t be here without ARB’s vision from years ago; without CEC’s bold funding decisions; without the automakers and OEMs bringing the vehicles and doing everything they do to help bring the stations from fully constructed to open; without the station developers; without willing station owners; and also without cities.  The point is, it really takes a lot of “ands” to make this happen.

The City of Santa Monica has been an absolute joy to work with. They’re incredibly organized. They’re really on top of it. And they’ve gone so far as to help other cities embrace hydrogen in the same way that they have. Those efforts continue to pay themselves forward. 

Today is a big day. It’s a glimpse into the future. Today, it’s big news that we’re driving from LA up to Sacramento—but in the future, that drive won’t be news. That is what we’re striving toward.

Tony Vasquez: I’m glad and proud that  your trip today starts here in Santa Monica.

We’ve been a big fan of alternative fuels since I first got on City Council back in the ‘90s—probably even before then. Most of our vehicles, particularly our fleets, are alternative. Our buses are now all electric. But now there’s another option. As we see other fuels come into being that are actually going to have more driving range, I think we’re going to see them adopted more and more among the Santa Monica public. 

When I myself was thinking about electric vehicles some years back, my one reservation was that I couldn’t get up the coast or down the coast in most of the vehicles.  Today, we’re going to demonstrate that you can actually go up to 300 miles, and there are more and more fueling stations along the way. I’m proud of that. 

This is another opportunity for Santa Monica to shrink its carbon footprint. I’m proud that you all are here and that we’re moving forward with this.

Dr. Clark Parker: One of the things that happens when you become one of the board members of an organization, as well as  on the executive board of the hydrogen fuel-cell partnership, is that you get the opportunity to drive a lot of cars. 

We have electric vehicles. We have hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. We have other alternative vehicles, large trucks and others, that we are trying out to see exactly how they work. But one of the things that I’ve been very impressed with is the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

I have an opportunity now to say to everyone what I’m quite sure  you already know: that zero and near-zero emission vehicles are critical to achieving the air quality that we need in our region. 

Here in our basin, the South Coast Air Quality Management District covers four counties: Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernardino, and Riverside. Those counties have a population of approximately 17 million people. Those 17 million people consist of more than any of 46 states. That means if we wanted to be, we could be the fifth-largest state in the Union. Because of that, we have a big challenge, and that is being able to clean the air so that we all can breathe easier. 

I’m fortunate, in a way, to be old enough that I’ve been around since the days before we had air-quality management districts—back in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Believe me, on warm days, it was difficult to breathe. 

Our eyes would be running. Smog alerts would be given. It was recommended to take all the women and children inside and even down to the basement, because it was not safe for them to be outside. 

All of us who have been around long enough remember what it used to be like when we would drive behind a local bus. It’d take off and all the diesel fuels would spew out, and if we had the kind of car that would circulate the air in between our car and the next, we’d start coughing and everything else.

Because of the actions that CARB has taken, and that the Energy Commission has allowed the AQMD to take as well, we’ve been very successful in cleaning the air. We’re at the point today where those smog alerts and diesel spewages don’t happen anymore, because we have incredible new technologies that produce zero emissions or nearly zero emissions. Most of our buses today use compressed natural gases; hopefully one day, they will use hydrogen as well.

We’ve made great strides and improvements, and we’ve got a lot more to do. Clean technology and strong policy oversight make an absolutely enormous difference for the health of our families, friends, and neighbors.  

A scientific study by researchers from USC was recently published in the well respected Journal of the American Medical Association. It confirms that children’s lung health in the Southern California region has improved over the last two decades as overall air pollution has dropped. That finding validates the broad effectiveness of our collective air-quality efforts.

Every year, the South Coast AQMD provides tours to scores of international visitors, who come from all over the world to learn how we combatted pollution and cleaned the air in this particular region. And each year, the hydrogen-fueling stations of Southern California are a very popular feature.

We have the reputation, even though we’ve gone through some rough times lately, of being the premier clean air agency there is—not only in the United States and California, but in the entire world. We have some of the greatest scientists in the world that work directly at our agency. That has certainly made us very proud, and we intend to continue that legacy and that leadership throughout the world. It’s a big job. Bringing this region clean air and economic benefits requires great teamwork. 

Let me close by thanking everyone who has worked hard over a number of years to arrive at this showcasing of commercial fuel-cell vehicles and our first-generation basic hydrogen-fueling network. Thank you for helping us move another mile ahead on the road to a sustainable Southland economy based on clean, reliable energy and healthier communities for us all. 

Janea Scott: California is committed to supporting the development of the hydrogen transportation market. To accelerate that market here in California, we need not only the vehicles that my colleague Chair Nichols was speaking about earlier, but also a robust hydrogen-refueling infrastructure that will help support those hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles.

Recognizing this emerging market, and that these stations are not easy to build, the California Energy Commission invests up to $20 million annually from our Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology program to help kickstart this market, and to get an initial network of 100 stations going across our great State of California.

Throughout the duration of our program, the Energy Commission has invested about $90 million to support the build-out of 49 hydrogen stations, and we currently have a solicitation open so that we can build a few more. As a result, right now we have 17 hydrogen stations open for business and fueling these vehicles today. 

The fact that we are here today, getting ready to make this drive from Los Angeles to Sacramento in our hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles, demonstrates the significant progress that has been made in building out California’s hydrogen-refueling infrastructure.

The key takeaway for us today is that the hydrogen stations are here now and more are coming.

Shane Stephens: I’m a co-founder of the company building the True Zero network of hydrogen stations. Let me fill you in on a little history. The consistency of California’s policy—from the governor’s office, regional agencies like AQMD, and cities—is why we’re here today. We’ve also benefited from the long-term commitment of so many auto companies to developing clean technology.

We’re open for  business in this state because of 20 years of commitment to clean air and the environment—and that’s a big deal.

“California is committed to supporting the development of the hydrogen transportation market...throughout the duration of our program, the Energy Commission has invested about $90 million to support the build-out of 49 hydrogen stations.” -Janea Scott, CA Energy Commissioner