Will Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Drive Growth in Refueling Infrastructure, or Vice Versa?

July 11, 2019—By 2030, California aims to have 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations (HRSs) to support the more than 1 million fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) expected to be traversing its highways and byways. It’s a lofty goal, since FCEVs just entered the U.S. market at the tail end of 2015.

Hydrogen Fuel Pump

Around the same time, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai commercially launched FCEV models. Through the end of 2017, global sales of FCEVs totaled 6,475, and industry forecasts call for steady growth, suggesting FCEV sales could have a 20% share of light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales by 2050.

There are caveats, however. High initial vehicle costs and a dearth of hydrogen refueling infrastructure pose significant challenges to the expansion and adoption of FCEVs. Given these potential roadblocks, how can the FCEV industry continue on its journey of expansion into the market? 

Forecasters Debate the Key to Future FCEV Growth

Future FCEV growth depends upon several factors, not least of which is increased availability of hydrogen refueling stations. Market projections are subject to a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Some assume investment and growth in the FCEV market can’t occur before the expansion and development of hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Others believe growth in the FCEV market will spark government and private sector investment in such infrastructure.

Governments, automakers, and other private sector actors are in agreement on one point, however: to ensure the ongoing commercialization and increased affordability of FCEVs, development of hydrogen refueling infrastructure must take place in parallel with the production of these vehicles.

Keeping the hydrogen refueling station (HRS) costs in check can help keep hydrogen fuels costs in check, thus encouraging the continued global FCEV growth.

A Cost Crystal Ball

But reducing the costs of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure is no simple task.

While studies have explored the cost of hydrogen production, storage, and distribution in depth, little research has focused specifically on how reducing the cost of hydrogen infrastructure would impact the cost of storing and dispensing hydrogen.

In their journal article “Manufacturing competitiveness analysis for hydrogen refueling stations,” NREL/Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center (CEMAC) researchers Ahmad Mayyas and Margaret Mann developed manufacturing cost models for key parts in a gaseous hydrogen refueling station. They examine current and future costs for hydrogen delivery, storage, compression, and dispensing technologies.

Using a bottom-up cost analysis, the team assessed manufacturing competitiveness to gain a better understanding of the major manufacturing cost contributors in each country of interest, as well as evaluate the competitiveness of U.S.-based manufacturers relative to other countries.

To compute a final system cost, researchers applied a balance of system (BOS) approach that takes into account the direct cost of BOS parts (ancillary parts and structures), their assembly, and testing, plus direct equipment manufacturing costs.

To calculate indirect cost components, researchers used MSP, or minimum sustainable price—the minimum price a company would have to charge for a good or service to cover all variable and fixed costs, while making enough money to repay investors at their minimum rate of return.

Produce more, save more

The United States, Germany, and Japan lead the international market in terms of both the quantity of FCEVs on the road and the number of HRSs to sustain them.

NREL/CEMAC researchers found that U.S.-based HRS manufacturers enjoy greater experience, lower energy costs, and lower shipping costs for systems shipped within the U.S. mainland. While manufacturers based in China and Mexico also enjoy some similar lower costs, they lack the experience in the hydrogen and fuel cell industry which makes manufacturing here more attractive.  

For all regions/countries in the study, the cost analysis showed that:

  • The BOS in the compression system and parts in the dispensing system shared the largest proportion of total systems costs
  • Labor costs came in a close second
  • In the context of the hydrogen ground storage steel-based tanks, material costs overshadow the system cost.

The results of the NREL/CEMAC study suggest producing larger volumes of both key parts and systems in the hydrogen refueling stations ecosystem (more than 100 units per year) could reduce capital costs as much as 35%. And reductions in capital costs could mean those trend-setting California drivers will be paying less at the pump, fueling their cars – and possibly FCEV expansion, too.

Back to JISEA News >

Report cover titled Transform

Annual Report

Learn more about JISEA's work linking energy, security, and prosperity in the 21st century.

Download PDF