By on May 10, 2011


A bevy of industry figures and politicos congregated yesterday in Torrance, CA, to celebrate the grand opening of a new gas station. But it wasn’t just any new gas station …

As a collaborative effort between Toyota, Air Products, Shell, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Department of Energy (DOE), the first hydrogen fueling station in the U.S. that is fed directly from an active industrial hydrogen pipeline was opened.

Don’t drive down yet to fill up your hydrogen car (which you are unlikely to have): The station will provide hydrogen for Toyota fuel cell hybrid demonstration program vehicles as well as other manufacturers’ fuel cell vehicle fleets in the Los Angeles area.

The word “hydrogen” triggers associations of “bomb” in some people. Toyota puts that to rest by placing the hydrogen gas station right next to their U.S. HQ in Torrance. Toyota leases the land “for a nominal fee” to Shell, which owns and operates the station. The gas is supplied by Air Products via a pipeline from its plants in Wilmington and Carson, CA. There is some tax payer’s money involved: “SCAQMD and DOE provided project funding assistance,” says Toyota’s press release.

At the inauguration of the gas station, Chris Hostetter, group vice president of product and strategic planning at Toyota U.S. said: “Toyota plans to bring a fuel cell vehicle to market in 2015, or sooner, and we will not be alone in the marketplace.” Let’s see …

Last year, we had picked up signs of a revival  of  the hydrogen fuel cell technology. There was a lot of renewed excitement in the industry about the technology, especially on the Asian and European side of the globe. Everybody seemed to be gearing up to make 2015 the year of hydrogen. Daimler sent a fleet of hydrogen-powered cars around the world.

They are still at it. Forgotten by the fickle media, the hydrogen-powered Benzes are making their long way back from China to Europe, live-blogged by an intrepid reporter of Auto, Motor und Sport who just posted issue #52. Judging from the comments, only a few bother to read.

A few months ago, the hydrogen euphoria seemed to suddenly run out of fuel – around the world. Even the Obama administration cut $70 million from hydrogen funding. That’s not what killed the mood, carmakers in Europe, Korea or Japan never harbored great hopes to get a lot out of U.S. coffers. From repeated talks with insiders at major automakers, I am given the impression that there is not big breakthrough with the hurdles that stand in the way of wholesale hydrogenification of the universe. As there are the problems of polar bear-friendly hydrogen production, efficient distribution and escape-proof storage, only to name a few.

A spokesman of a usually straightforward German automaker said: “If we have a breakthrough in any of these areas, we’ll call you.”  I’m not sitting by the phone.

At the same time, as hydrogen-disillusion sank in (for the umpteenth time), interest in EVs started to rise, even at the formerly most electricity-insulated companies.


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24 Comments on “Toyota Inaugurates Gas Station...”

  • avatar

    With fuel cells price well over 100k, I doubt there will ever be a demand for hydrogen cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, but if they ever go into volume production, maybe the price will go down…to a much more reasonable $80k.

      Then there’s that pesky little problem of most hydrogen atoms being attached to some other type of atom, and being difficult to harvest without using quite a bit of energy…

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t need fuel cells to run on hydrogen. A regular internal combustion engine will work just fine, similar to how you can run a conventional engine on propane or natural gas. It helps to design the engine for the fuel, of course, but I bet a modified gasoline engine would run well enough to move a car on hydrogen. Also, the combustion chemistry and the emissions are theoretically the same as with the fuel cell.

      I don’t think that fuel cells are the problem with hydrogen. The problem is that hydrogen isn’t a fuel — you need energy to make the hydrogen, so you need to solve all of our other energy problems before you can make enough of it to power the world economy.

      If you don’t believe me yet, I have a number of appliances in my house that all run on natural gas. They could be adapted to run off of hydrogen with only a few small changes. Also, I use more energy heating my house than I do driving my car so, if it would work, powering my house with hydrogen would likely solve more problems than running my car on hydrogen. If the hydrogen economy is something other than hype, than why isn’t *anyone* talking about running furnaces, hot water heaters, and ranges off of hydrogen? There’s already an infrastructure in place for distributing gaseous fuels that could be adapted for hydrogen. And, yes, the chemistry and the emissions are theoretically the same if I burn hydrogen in my hot water heater as they are from a fuel cell.

      Everyone always seems to be so focused on the fuel-cell hype that they miss these major points. There is no practical barrier to using hydrogen on the demand side and, although it’s not a perfect fit for every application, if the stuff were available in anything like the price/quantities that natural gas is available in today, people would probably use it anyway. There are lots practical problemson the supply side, though — and solving our energy/environmental/climate problems is the first step in making hydrogen practical, followed by technical challenges like building long-term storage tanks to contain the universe’s smallest molecule using only bigger atoms and molecules.

      So, compared to that, lithium-ion batteries are looking pretty good. They serve the same purpose and seem to work pretty well. I can actually write a check to a major car manufacturer today, and expect them to deliver a car with lithium-ion batteries in a few months. Nissan and GM will take my money now, Ford probably will in a year. Can’t say that about hydrogen.

      • 0 avatar

        You could burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, but efficiency is much lower than fuel cells due to thermodynamic constraints.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem is that people whine about lithium-ion batteries taking a few hours to “fill up”, whereas a tank of compressed hydrogen would take about as long to “recharge” as a tank of gasoline.

        That’s basically the only advantage hydrogen-powered cars would have over battery-powered ones, but it’s a big one. Personally, I’d still rather have the batteries; it’s certainly more efficient and I think we’ll solve the rapid charging problem before we figure out how to make inexpensive fuel cells.

      • 0 avatar

        The emissions of a H2 Ice aren’t the same as a fuel cell. A combustion engine creates nitric oxide and smog while a fuel cell doesn’t

      • 0 avatar

        @charly: “The emissions of a H2 Ice aren’t the same as a fuel cell. A combustion engine creates nitric oxide and smog while a fuel cell doesn’t”

        The stoichiometry is the same for both. Are you so sure that fuel cells are so clean?

        Also, gasoline and diesel engines also produce nitric oxide, but it has been greatly reduced by tuning the engine properly and exhaust after-treatment. So, that can’t be the holdup.

        My point is that, even if fuel cells are better (and I’m skeptical on that point), we don’t have to wait for them to become cost effective before we can use hydrogen to power transportation and houses. The fuel cells clearly aren’t the reason for the holdup.

        The availability of hydrogen is the holdup. The hydrogen you buy at the local welder’s supply is “reformed” natural gas, and is priced accordingly. It’s not like we have lots of hydrogen sitting in the ground waiting for us to use it. Well, actually, we do — it’s just attached to long carbon chains and we use a lot of it. When we turn hydrocarbons in to hydrogen, the carbon is going to be emitted into the atmosphere one way or another, so who cares if it’s emitted from my car’s tailpipe or from a pipe over at Airgas?

      • 0 avatar

        You’ve also got hydrogen bonded to oxygen just sitting there covering three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, with an electrolyte already dissolved in it. All you need is a hell of a lot of electricity and you’ve got all the hydrogen you want.

        Whether using this electricity to get hydrogen through water electrolysis is more efficient than simply using this electricity to charge a conventional battery is, I guess, an open question.

      • 0 avatar

        Temperature in the fuel cell is to low to create nitric oxides.

        Battery is much more efficient. So much so that a commercial hydrogen (EV) car will be a plug-in and only use hydrogen on long distance travel

    • 0 avatar

      Also, hydrogen fueled vehicles can not be parked in enclosed garages.

  • avatar

    The real question is: can I use my cell phone while filling up?

  • avatar

    So, do we know why that hydrogen fueling station in New York blew up in August last year? There as an article at TTAC. Maybe by now some authorities (NTSB?) have some kind of report…

  • avatar

    So when’s Simon Phoenix gonna show up?

  • avatar

    natural gas prices make this more attractive. CNG seems rather avaiable, but cheap reformers or onboard reformer technology seems stuck in a rut.

    • 0 avatar

      But if you’re just reforming natural gas, what’s the point of using hydrogen? Why not just use the natural gas? Natural gas is a perfectly usable fuel on its own.

      (Natural gas only kicks the sustainability can down the road a few decades, but such is life… Also, the big picture is beyond the scope of my question.)

      • 0 avatar

        I think the reason natural gas reformation is better is that it’s more efficient. Bloom’s solid oxide fuel cells (which perform natural gas reformation) are greater than 50%. Combustion is less efficient because you lose some of the energy through heat.

      • 0 avatar

        “only kicks the sustainability can down the road a few decades”

        In a few decades, chances are both you and I and our kids will be dead.

        One wonders why do people even have kids. After all, the kids will all die in a few decades, won’t they?

        If one really thinks that “a few decades” is so nearly worthless that one writes “only kicks…”, why shouldn’t one be entirely consistent and just jump off of a bridge now?

      • 0 avatar

        @mcs: I was under the impression that fuel cells run about as hot as engines and are fairly similar in their efficiency. I hope I’m wrong, though. Even if burning the hydrogen is less efficient, there’s no reason that without waiting around for fuel cells

        @vww12: My kid will be my age in 30 years, and will have to deal with whatever situation I leave for him “in a few decades”. So, if I only kick the can down the road a few decades, rather than solving problems for real, then I will have achieved very little, and mt grandkids will be left to deal with the problems. Alas, I can only do anything on the individual level.

        When gas prices start to increase for real (probably in the next decade or so), I expect that most people will replace it with natural gas and get on with life. That’ll last a few decades beyond that (at great environmental cost), and we’ll be right back where we started. If we’re lucky, we’ll invent fusion power plants, if we’re unlucky we won’t and we’ll have to learn to live with less energy. Or, I can put my sports-car money toward putting an excessive number of PV panels on my house (and my son’s house when he buys one in a few decades), and skip the roller coaster. Of course, that only addresses one or two houses, and doesn’t address the big issues.

        Anyway, your fatalism doesn’t work for me. I guess it’s because my kid matters to me.

  • avatar

    Currently requires a fission reaction to initiate fusion with apparently very limited success in attaining an extremely short-lived fusion occurrence using multiple lasers as an initiating device with eventual success at the much-lusted-for self-sustaining fusion force up in the air.

    Controlling the fusion force requires a much stronger cardboard box that what is currently available.

    Anybody hereabouts up to date with Livermore Lab or Sandia goings-on…. at least that which is utterable without undue torture for blabbing?

    Fusion, if perfected AND operable as envisioned/desired MAY solve a HORDE of energy needs and possibly extremely safe to people,critters, environment and our finny friends at sea.



    If ONLY the monetary sums dedicated to preserving the current economic status quo was diverted to a Kennedy-like goal of achieving nuclear fusion as soon as possible.

    Perhaps a few trillion bucks from diverting USA military ops to the “fusion cause.”

    But what does a shanty-bound old fart unable to have conjured up a pension during decades of performing socially-needed work efforts doing even hinting at what the wondrous ruling overlords have done in the past and continue to do?

    Shuffling away, grumbling.

  • avatar

    Ive seen this station on 190th St fenced off for a long time, maybe a year, and wondered when it was going to open. Infrastructure is why this wont work in a more widespread way. The dedicated pipelines only run a few miles from Shell refineries, where the Air Products facilities are located. Reforming natural gas is exactly how hydrogen is produced for refinery process feed. The carbon atom in CH4 still has to go somewhere, so this is not carbon-free. Steam reforming equation: 4CH4 + O2 + 2H2O -> 10H2 + 4CO

  • avatar

    That’s the whole problem with hydrogen…it’s so reactive that you can’t find loose hydrogen atoms or molecules in nature; they have to be pried off whatever carbon or oxygen or even nitrogen atoms they’ve already bonded to, and it takes more energy to do that than you get back by burning the stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think anybody’s pitching it as an energy source, it’s an energy storage medium, like a battery, except you can refuel it quickly and store it in big tanks and so forth.

      • 0 avatar

        Except that diatomic hydrogen is slippery stuff, and it has a way of gradually leaking out of storage tanks large and small…

        Hopefully someone has found a solution, but I knew some smart people who were working on materials for seals that could contain hydrogen a few years ago and, as far as I know, they never made any progress. I’d love to be wrong about this one.

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