Roadmap for the Coming Hydrogen Fuel and Fuel Cell Vehicle Rollout in California

January 2011

UC Davis Researchers Develop Plan and Tools for a Smooth Introduction

The public focus may be on the battery electric vehicles coming to market, but another kind of electric-drive vehicle, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV), is coming soon, too. The biggest obstacle, according to many automakers, is not the cost or performance of FCVs, but rather the lack of a refueling network. Fuel companies insist that they will supply the fuel when the vehicles are ready, but are not willing to build fueling stations beforehand. The result is a classic chicken and egg conundrum. To move this process forward, several major energy companies and automakers asked UC Davis to try to bring resolution to this dilemma. They worked with ITS-Davis to form a research consortium comprising automakers, fuel suppliers, and government.

ITS-Davis led the effort to analyze the fueling needs of the early-market FCVs and worked with the consortium to specify efficient approaches to accelerate commercialization. The answer that evolved was a cluster approach—whereby automakers and fuel suppliers agree to target a specific city or region, and then leapfrog to additional cities and regions in a coordinated manner. Two reports resulted.

The first report, authored by Michael Nicholas and Joan Ogden, is titled “An Analysis of Near-Term Hydrogen Vehicle Rollout Scenarios for Southern California.” Nicholas and Ogden’s study analyzed the placement and economics of hydrogen fueling station locations and developed a cluster strategy. (This work also has been accepted for publication in the journal Energy Policy.)

“Clustering lets you reduce infrastructure costs and make fuel cell vehicle drivers happy at the same time. The trick is to collocate consumers and fueling stations in a small number of initial target markets,” says Nicholas.

Nicholas and Ogden redefined the term “cluster,” which previously referred to a broad geographic area such as Los Angeles or San Diego, to mean a group of stations in a town or neighborhood within a larger metropolitan area. A cluster would be near customers’ homes, with additional outlying stations near traffic corridors and at desirable destinations such as work, shopping, and recreation.

The authors developed scenarios for volumes, hydrogen demand, station placement, and numbers of stations in Los Angeles, over three time periods:

  • 2009–11: 636 FCVs (using an average of 445 kg H2/day) and 8–16 stations
  • 2012–14: 3442 FCVs (using an average of 2410 kg H2/day) and 16–30 stations
  • 2015–17: 25,000 FCVs (using an average of 17,500 kg H2/day) and 36–42 stations

The authors assumed vehicles and stations are placed in four to twelve clusters identified by automakers in a 2009 survey by the California Fuel Cell Partnership. They used spatial analysis methods to develop two measures of consumer convenience: the average travel time from home to a station, and the average time needed to reach a station while traveling anywhere in the Los Angeles Basin. Their results reveal that clustering is a very effective way to provide good access to fuel, even with a small number of stations.

“Previously, infrastructure estimates were based on a geographically dispersed set of customers. By clustering, you’ll spend less money on infrastructure and make fueling more convenient,” Nicholas adds.

The second report is “Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Vehicles in California: A Transition Strategy through 2017.” ITS-Davis researchers Ogden and Nicholas, and Joshua Cunningham (now at the California Air Resources Board), contributed to the report.

The report describes how FCVs can take the next step toward commercialization, based on the clustering concept, whereby vehicles are regionally clustered around a concentrated hydrogen fueling network. It examines the differing motivations of government, automotive, and fuel provider stakeholders in an attempt to find common ground for a transportation future with hydrogen and FCVs. The following insights resulted from UC Davis analysis and a series of stakeholder workshops facilitated by ITS-Davis:

  • Stakeholders must have confidence in the technical success of the hydrogen and FCV alternative, and consensus on a realistic appraisal of current technical status, costs, and timelines for commercialization.
  • Government must provide clear evidence of a durable, consistent commitment to the hydrogen and FCV alternative and accompanying policies, throughout a pre-commercial transition.
  • Industry and government need a coordinated plan to collaborate on the rollout of hydrogen and FCVs.
  • A long-term business case for hydrogen and fuel cells will need to be built around a future economy with increasingly stringent carbon policies.

Industry and government are embracing the clustering model for fueling infrastructure coupled with regional pre-commercial vehicle rollout plans as the best strategy for introducing FCVs. And while the focus of these UC Davis reports is California, the model is easily transportable to other regions.