The FirstElement Fuel Management Team — (L-R) Shane Stephens-Romero, Joel Ewanick, and Tim Brown — is working closely with Toyota to expand fuel cell adoption in California. Photo: Business Wire

The FirstElement Fuel Management Team — (L-R) Shane Stephens-Romero, Joel Ewanick, and Tim Brown — is working closely with Toyota to expand fuel cell adoption in California. Photo: Business Wire

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. has allocated more than $7.2 million to hydrogen fueling solutions provider FirstElement Fuel Inc., for the construction of 19 public hydrogen refueling stations located in Northern and Southern California. The two companies are partnering to support the long-term operation and maintenance expenses of the stations.

The initiative is a result of the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s recent public announcement and Assembly Bill 8, which amended the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to award financial assistance to provide at least 100 publicly available hydrogen fueling stations by 2024.

“We provided financial assistance to FirstElement to support and kick start this initial infrastructure development,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manager for Toyota Motor Sales, USA.

While Hartline noted that Toyota doesn’t expect to be in the fuel business, the initial jumping off point of the initiative is crucial.

“If we support this up front, as the public gets into these cars and becomes more familiar with the technology, the hydrogen market will increase and we’ll see more of these vehicles on the road,” Hartline explained.

To help ensure the success of the project, the California Fuel Cell Partnership worked hand in hand with the CEC and OEMs to understand where stations should be located for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. The organization has also worked tirelessly to raise awareness for the need of this alternative-fuel infrastructure and how fuel cells work.

There are currently 17 stations in development, with the goal of 45 stations to be completed in California by the end of 2016.

Educating the Public About Hydrogen Fuel

For this initiative to succeed, Hartline pointed out that it’s crucial for customers to have positive experiences with the technology and gain the adequate support they need.

According to Hartline, fueling a hydrogen vehicle is similar to fueling a traditional internal combustion engine. Also, the driving experience is “just as nice” or “even a little better,” she added.
And, even better than gasoline-powered vehicles: The only thing out of tailpipe is water. There are no emissions.

Other benefits of hydrogen fuel, Hartline explained, are that fuel cells are scalable. Hydrogen fuel works well for commercial applications or buses, as well as for passenger vehicles; and hydrogen holds promise for the future.

“We view this as our technology for the future,” she added. “Hydrogen as a fuel is interesting because there are so many ways to make hydrogen, such as with renewables. As the most abundant element in our atmosphere, the future of hydrogen as a fuel holds tremendous promise.”

One example of such abundance can be found in Fountain Valley, Calif., where a wastewater treatment plant is making hydrogen fuel from methane emissions generated during sewage treatment.

As far as when this fueling technology will take a solid hold, Hartline pointed to the Prius as an example. “The Prius has taken a decade to become mainstream. We see a similar curve for fuel cell technology, but the infrastructure is key,” she said.

Hartline expects other manufacturers to soon follow Toyota’s lead and actively support similar initiatives.

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Cheryl Knight

Cheryl Knight


Cheryl Knight has more than 20 years of editing and writing experience on topics ranging from advanced technology, to automotive fleet management, to business management.

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