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The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle creates its own electricity on-board from hydrogen. Assembled in Ulsan, South Korea, at the same plant that produces the conventional Tucson, the Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle has a driving range of up to 265 miles.

Growth of FCVs and EVs tied to infrastructure

More hydrogen fueling stations in California and additional electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S. could reduce the range anxiety consumers have about driving these-advanced technology vehicles, Bill Elrick, Executive Director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership told an xEV Infrastructure session audience at the 2016 Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Detroit.

“You can’t sell a car if there isn’t infrastructure to support it,” Elrick flatly stated.

At the end of 2015, California had only two retail stations selling hydrogen fuel. “We didn’t have enough infrastructure out there to let the early automaker deployments prosper,” Elrick admitted.

Now, California has 20 hydrogen retail stations, the most of any state in the U.S., and “By the end of 2016, we expect more than 30 stations. That will put California in a prime place for the other fuel-cell vehicles (FVCs) that are coming to market,” Elrick said.

Fuel-cell passenger vehicles in the California market include the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell. The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell arrives late this year; Clarity will be the industry’s first vehicle to use the same platform underpinnings for fuel-cell, battery-electric and plug-in hybrid variants. Electric and plug-in hybrid versions of the Clarity are slated for U.S. launch in 2017.

With the present network of hydrogen retail stations in California, it’s possible to drive an FCV from Los Angeles to San Francisco. “And it will take the same amount of time as it does in a gasoline car because of the 3- to 5-minute fill time with hydrogen,” said Elrick.

California’s mid-range goal is 100 retail hydrogen stations. “On the one hand, 100 stations seems rather small compared to the 13,000 gas stations in the state. However, 100 well-placed stations throughout California will put the majority of the state’s citizens within six minutes of a hydrogen station,” he concluded.

Beyond light-duty passenger vehicles, four transit agencies in California operate fuel-cell buses.

“Fuel-cell buses are just on the verge of full commercialization. The costs are getting down to $1 million or less and we think the next round of government co-funding will be a push for mass purchases, bringing the costs down even more,” said Elrick.

The first appearance of fuel-cell medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is likely later this year. “It’s just in the early demonstration stage, so we’re about where we were with light-duty vehicles about a decade ago,” said Elrick.

California’s supply of hydrogen is coming from reforming gas and other industrial processes. “But we need to look at new hydrogen production—and what we should really be focusing on is renewable sources,” said Elrick.

EV charging: more still needed

Meanwhile, the charging infrastructure for electrified vehicles remains a work in progress, according to Mark Duvall, Director of Energy Utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute, a non-profit organization headquartered in California.

“I think we’ve solved a lot of the infrastructure problems with plug-in vehicles, but there are still some gaps,” said Duvall, noting a need for more workplace and public charging stations.

AC charging and DC fast-charging are on different trajectories.

“I find it very unlikely that passenger vehicles of any size—even when you start electrifying large SUVs and pickup trucks—would need more than what we have available through the AC standard, which is (a maximum of) 19.2 kilowatts,” Duvall said in an interview with Automotive Engineering.

The DC fast-charging infrastructure presently provides between 25 and 125 kilowatts, with most units providing 50 kW.

“Fast charging can evolve in such a way that it’s still backward-compatible with the vehicles that are on the road today. And I think that’s both necessary and possible because there are already hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the U.S. that use our existing DC charging infrastructure,” Duvall said.

As the Chevrolet Bolt, next-generation Nissan Leaf and other vehicles with a greater driving range become commonplace on roadways, Duvall expects to see more infrastructure investments.

“As you start to get a clearer vision of what this higher-power infrastructure looks like, you could just build the DC fast-charging infrastructure with its expected three to seven times power level increase alongside the existing equipment,” explained Duvall.

With municipalities, utility companies and others enabling different infrastructure pieces, Duvall said that it doesn’t matter who does the work or who owns it. “It’s about getting the work done. I think for drivers, it has to look like one system and I think we have quite a bit of work yet. I see that as a key challenge,” Duvall said.

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