There is no doubt that The Optimist Daily is excited about the increasing number of electric vehicles on the roads. In the US, infrastructure for plug-in EVs has been fleshed out in many regions, easing drivers’ range anxiety. With new tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act, we can expect more and more drivers of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to opt for electric cars (EVs) in the near future.
However, to reach the ambitious electrification goals being enacted around the nation, we’ll need more than battery electric vehicles (BEVs). For instance, California is striving for a new car market in which no ICE vehicles are on the market by 2035, which will stretch their already stretched electric grid.
Why we shouldn’t sleep on hydrogen fuel cell cars
Plug-in BEVs were the first zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) to be introduced, so it makes sense that they dominate the ZEV market. According to the California Energy Commission, by the end of 2021, there were approximately half a million plug-in cars in the state, compared to just over 10,000 hydrogen-fueled electric vehicles (FCEVs). Since plug-in EVs can be charged using a conventional outlet at home, which doesn’t require any new infrastructure, getting drivers to adopt plug-in vehicles was not a huge challenge.
Despite this convenience, if everyone decided to purchase a plug-in vehicle, the already overworked electrical grid is at risk of being overwhelmed. This the full adoption of ZEVs doesn’t require backing only one alternative to conventional ICE vehicles. Instead, experts advocate for widening the scope of ZEVs with multiple options.
That’s why Sen. Josh Newman, the chair of the “Hydrogen Car Caucus,” along with other senators, is promoting hydrogen vehicles as part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“These are wonderful cars,” Newman expresses.
Hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure
Of course, considering that there are only 60 hydrogen fuel pumps in the state of California, Newman is fortunate to live near several. He resides in Fullerton, where the nearest fill-up is only six miles away in Placentia. If the hydrogen pump there is offline, the next closest pumps are in Irvine or in Costa Mesa, both of which are within a reasonable distance.
Those who don’t live in highly populated areas, which is where most of the pumps are located, must wait for the government to expand hydrogen fuel infrastructure.
“Sufficient infrastructure creates a self-sustaining market,” explains Newman. “It’s a chicken and egg thing. Government needs to help advance the platform. We need to allocate funding for the buildout.”
Andrew Martinez, a Ph.D. at the California Air Resources Board stresses the importance of investing resources into both plug-in BEVs and FCEVs powered by hydrogen.
“No single technology is going to meet everybody’s needs,” Martinez says. “We see this as an ‘and’ situation rather than an ‘either-or.’ We are going to need both to have the best chance of meeting our goals.”
Broadening the budget (and the vision)
In California, lawmakers have allocated more than $6 billion in next year’s budget for zero-emission targets. And that’s not even including federal dollars related to new legislation.
Even so, Teresa Cooke, the founder and CEO of the California Hydrogen Coalition says more needs to be done. “We used to be a leader, but we are being outpaced,” she says. “Our investment pales in comparison to investments being made in Europe and Asia.”
The hope is that with enough people rallying behind hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), the government will recognize that FCEVs are, as Newman says, “worth it and necessary.”
If you’re curious about how to fuel it up, check out this explainer video from the Department of Energy.
TOD Editor’s note: Our Editor-in-Chief drives a FCEV, and loves it.