The hydrogen vehicel fuelingHydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.  Methane, the primary component of natural gas, consists of one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen.  All fossil fuels are similarly rich in hydrogen.  Most commercially available hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels but alternatively, hydrogen can be produced by using electricity to split water molecules, H2O, into the component gases, oxygen and hydrogen.  This carbon-free hydrogen can be produced by using electrical power from the grid or from wind and solar electrical power.

As of 1 August 2019 7,271 fuel-cell electric vehicles, FCEVs, had been sold or leased in California including 31 EFC buses in operation and another 21 EFC buses in development.  There are currently 40 retail hydrogen stations in California and another 23 in development.  Two zero-carbon-emissions (water vapor is the only emission) FCEVs, the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity FCX, are available in California.  New FCEVs are eligible for a $5,000 California tax credit and are priced in the $59,000 price range.  New vehicles come with a $15,000 prepaid fuel supply.  Hydrogen cost about $16 per kilogram and these vehicles have EPA ratings of 60 to 66 miles per kilogram and driving ranges of 300 to 350 miles per tank when fueled at a hydrogen station with H70 (70 megaPascals or 10,000 psi) capability.  California fueling stations also commonly have a supply at H35 (35 megaPascals or 5,000 psi) and other fueling stations with 6,000 psi are available.  When fueled at H35 the range of a vehicle will be only one half that of a vehicle fueled at H70.

FCEVs are commonly placed on the pre-owned market when the 3-year lease is terminated or the $15,000 complimentary fuel supply has been exhausted or earlier as owners trade in for a newer model.  Pre-owned vehicles with low mileage and in very good condition are available in the $15,000 to $18,000 price range.

FCEVs have two distinct advantages over plug-in EVs, the potential range and the speed of refueling.  One kilogram of hydrogen contains 120 megajoules of energy; that’s forty times greater than the 3 megajoules per kilogram found in the batteries of EVs and 2.7 more energy dense than a gallon of gasoline (44 megajoules/kg).  A FCEV can be fueled in about 5 minutes whereas, a plug-in EV can take as little as 30 minutes with a 150 kw rapid charger or up to 8 to 21 hours for other chargers.  For many EVs a 35 minute charge will yield a driving range of about 100 miles.   Texas drivers purchased 11,800 EVs in 2018 more than double the number purchased in 2017.  EVs are about 1% of all vehicles on Texas roads.  Nationwide the U.S sales of EVs increased 63% from 187,985 in 2017 to 328,118 in 2018, while in China 777,000 new EVs were sold in 2017. Wan Gang, the father of China’s electric-car movement, is now betting on hydrogen as the fuel of the future.  Wan Gang sees EVs as meeting the need of intercity transportation but FCEVs will dominate for long-haul travel in buses and trucks.  Likewise, Japan sees hydrogen and FCEVs as the future.  Closer to home Nikola Motor Company sees hydrogen as the fuel for long-haul freight delivery.

Nikola Motor Company has purchased 400 acres of land in the Phoenix, Arizona, Pinal County area as the site for its planned manufacturing facility to produce class 8 18-wheeler hydrogen fuel cell trucks.  By 2024 Nikola plans to have a workforce 2,000 at the site and to have fulfilled its presold orders of 13,000 units beginning delivery in 2022. These FCEV trucks are to be fueled from 700 hydrogen station to be built across the nation with the first one to be in California and others to develop along I-70 as the coast-to-coast hydrogen highway. The fueling stations are to have capabilities to fuel passenger cars in 5 minutes and commercial trucks in 10 minutes. These Nikola trucks are projected to lease for $0.95 per mile for a 1 million miles or $950,000 including fuel.  There are three models of these trucks available, one for long haul with a sleeper cab, one for regional delivery with a smaller cab, and one for local delivery with the smallest cab.  All of these vehicles have six electric motors, two fuel cells, 2,000 horsepower and will pull a 6 degree grade at 65 mph even when fully loaded with 80,000 pounds of cargo.  The Nikola trucks are 1 ton lighter than a similar size diesel truck and, therefore, can carry an additional 2,000 pounds of cargo per trip.  The average 18-wheeler makes 25 trips per month; what would an extra ton of cargo per trip be worth?  It’s hard to say how quickly the hydrogen economy will develop but it really seems to be developing.  Cars replaced horses and buggies over a 13 year period from 1900 until 1913 in New York City.  The world may now be taking its first step into the hydrogen economy by adopting EVs and FCEVs.  West Texas and specifically the Texas Panhandle could play a significant role in this transition.