Hydrogen Fuel Station Blast Temporarily Halts Fuel Cell Vehicle Sales in Norway

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
hydrogen fuel station blast temporarily halts fuel cell vehicle sales in norway

Toyota and Hyundai have reportedly suspended sales of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered Mirai and Nexo in Norway after one refueling station went up like the Hindenburg.

Local media reports that, on Monday evening, a Uno-X station in Sandvika suffered a “huge explosion” that injured two nearby drivers after the shock wave caused their vehicles’ airbags to deploy. It’s a black eye for a fuel that, despite the best efforts of a handful of determined automakers, can’t seem to make much headway in the marketplace.

Following the blast, station operator Nel shut down a number of its remaining refueling locations in Norway, reports NRK, as well as those in other European countries. An investigation is ongoing.

The lack of hydrogen availability in Norway means there’s little reason to sell vehicles that can’t find fuel. In response, Toyota and Hyundai have temporarily suspended sales of their FCVs.

Hydrogen is difficult and energy-intensive to produce; in California, the only U.S. state to offer drivers the option of taking home a FCV, efforts are underway to expand the existing network of 40 retail refueling stations. Another 24 are in various stages of planning and approval.

FCVs operate by generating electricity through a chemical reaction in the fuel cell stack. That current then powers a conventional electric motor, which powers the drive wheels of the car. Operation is much like any other EV, though refueling is a much quicker process than plugging in your vehicle overnight. Of course, that’s assuming the nearby station hasn’t run dry of its supply of scarce liquified hydrogen. Range, while improved from early models, still lags behind that of internal combustion vehicles.

News of a station detonating will no doubt rekindle distrust in the highly flammable gas, which, as this story’s lede aptly shows, can’t seem to shake the stigma of that 1937 tragedy at Lakehurst Naval Air Station. And still automakers try. Among other makes, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz feel that the future of propulsion is not yet set in stone; thus, FCV development continues.

[Image: Toyota, Matthew Guy/TTAC]

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  • Volvo Volvo on Jun 12, 2019

    I have a question. The post says "Hydrogen is difficult and energy-intensive to produce'. Can anyone give more details on that? Is the energy cycle from source (presumably gas from oil wells) to that delivered to the wheels of the vehicle positive or negative? How does it compare to gasoline or diesel? Hydrogen is very volatile with vapor point of -423F. Very low ignition energy input. And flammable over range of 4%-75% oxygen. I guess the good point is that spontaneous combustion temp of pure hydrogen is +1060 F Because of handling/storage difficulties and relative low energy density/volume at reasonable pressures it has been used in the past for applications that require vast amounts of instantaneous power, such as rocketry and spaceflight. IMO hydrogen as a fuel for cars/trucks/buses is not ready for prime time.

    • See 2 previous
    • Jagboi Jagboi on Jun 13, 2019

      @conundrum I used to work with the guy who invented the fuel cell powered bus that BC Transit used in North Vancouver. They had a unique situation in that there was a chemical company across from the bus barns who manufactured soap. A byproduct of the soap process is hydrogen and they used to flare it off. They reached an agreement with BC Transit and put a pipeline across the street to the bus barns and used the hydrogen to fuel the buses. It did work fairly well, as the busses were electric drive they had plenty of power to get away from the curb quickly and were well suited to the stop and go of an urban bus route. Range was always a problem, as well as life of the fuel cells. Of course, we had the same thing 60 years ago in the form of trolly busses with overhead wires, and earlier with streetcars. Fuel cells are really best suited to applications that have constant load. One application we were looking at was cathodic protection of pipelines. They are often remote, need little but steady power, and have natural gas as the only fuel available. That became obsolete with better solar panels and batteries. I can see fuel cells in some industrial uses, such as providing a base load to the grid, assuming there is a source of hydrogen that could be utilized like in Vancouver, but I think it's poorly suited to retail users in a transportation application.

  • Volvo Volvo on Jun 12, 2019

    I also am grateful for that excellent technical description from someone who was in the industry. As to your question. I do not have a technical argument for hydrogen fuel cells. I do have a political argument and that is that this is just another large corporate try at government subsidized rent seeking.

  • Bobbysirhan The Pulitzer Center that collaborated with PBS in 'reporting' this story is behind the 1619 Project.
  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.