5,612 EV Charging Stations; 76 Hydrogen Fueling Stations

In the category of underwhelming headlines, this one was an overwhelming winner. It was as though Congress and the president had announced a budget deal that would trim, oh, about $18.62 from the deficit over the next 10 years.

“Worldwide 27 new hydrogen filling stations in 2012,” read the press release from H2stations.org, the hydrogen infrastructure tracking site run by Ludwig-Bolkow-Systemtechnik (LBST) and TÜV SÜD that was promoting its fifth annual accounting of progress.

This hydrogen-car fueling station in Germany has a solar canopy to help offset the energy used to provide hydrogen (image via image via Fraunhofer ISE)

This hydrogen-car fueling station in Germany has a solar canopy to help offset the energy used to provide hydrogen (image via image via Fraunhofer ISE)

Mind you, this release was translated by the Google language gobble-up-and-spit-outer, which occasionally misses nuance. But still. The number is the number, and the number – 27 in the whole world – is a reminder that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as an automobile alternative remain a very, very distant vision.

Consider: Even after years of consolidation and closures, there are 121,446 gasoline stations in the United States. Heck, we’re up to 5,612 publicly available electric vehicle charging stations and people say that’s a roadblock to selling more electric vehicles. The total for hydrogen fueling stations – public or private – is 76, out of 203 worldwide.

Two other related recent items made this shocking paucity of hydrogen fueling infrastructure jump out.

First, there was the early-March report that the U.S. Department of Energy is working on something called H2USA, “a campaign to promote hydrogen cars,” according to Automotive News. This would represent a turnaround of sorts for the Obama administration. Outgoing DOE chief Steven Chu had said early in his tenure that fuel cell vehicles were unlikely to be viable in “the distant future” because of the distribution hurdle.

Still, without big money – and nobody seems to think big money will back the effort – it’s hard to see how H2USA will do much to alter the hydrogen-less reality.

Meanwhile, we reported recently that Hyndai appears to be the company that will lead the way into the fuel cell car future. Around 2015.

You going to get one?

Of course not. These cars are all going to go into fleets, because everyone knows that’s all that will be viable, given the absence of fueling stations. But: “After 2015, with lowered vehicle production costs and further developed hydrogen infrastructure, it is believed they will begin manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for consumer retail sales.”

Further developed hydrogen infrastructure: Well, there are plans.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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