Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Photo courtesy of Toyota.

End-users are getting a first look at the estimated cost of filling the hydrogen tank on Toyota's new fuel-cell powered sedan, which is set to debut next summer in California.

During the JP Morgan Auto Conference in New York earlier this week, Toyota senior vice president Bob Carter said the Department of Energy estimates the fuel cost to travel 300 miles in the automaker's new FCV at $50, although that amount is expected to drop to about $30 — or 10 cents a mile — over time.

If that estimate holds, the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle would be more expensive to fuel than more-conventional cars when it makes its debut.

With gasoline now costing around $3.50 a gallon nationally, a car that gets 25 mile per gallon requires $42 in fuel to travel 300 miles, while a gasoline-electric hybrid that gets 45 mpg needs $23.33 in fuel.

One of the selling points for the fuel cell vehicle, according to Carter, is that is can be refilled in about three minutes — much like the current experience for drivers — rather than either the overnight or 30-minute quick charges for all-electric vehicles.

However, those electric vehicles still appear to be the most economical to drive, with a 300-mile charge for a Tesla Model S — the only all-electric that can match the FCV’s range — estimated to cost $11.88, based on the national average rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

When the FCV is rolled out in California next year, the first in a network of hydrogen stations operated by First Element Fuels and Linde will be available, one of the reasons a new report from the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) is more positive about hydrogen's future.

ITS researchers have calculated that it will take an initial investment of $100 million to $200 million in support of 100 stations to serve 50,000 vehicles to make hydrogen cost-competitive with gasoline. In the report, they note that level of investment is on the horizon in California, as well as Japan and Germany.

"In many respects, hydrogen fuel cell cars offer consumer value similar or superior to today's gasoline cars," said Joan Ogden, the lead author of the study. "The technology readily enables large vehicle size, a driving range of 300-400 miles, and a fast refueling time of three to five minutes."