Three Major Signs that May Change the Future of Hydrogen Mobility in the U.S.

As the global hydrogen economy makes significant progress, investing in the innovation and infrastructure needed to make fuel cell vehicles a powerful tool in achieving emissions targets, where is the U.S.?

The United States has largely been considered a bystander to the hydrogen mobility movement in recent years. While there are FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicles) passenger cars commercially available and California lawmakers have made an investment to put 100 refuelling stations and 48 hydrogen buses into operation, the prospect for a robust and viable U.S. market for FCEVs has seemed bleak.

Sales of U.S. FCEV passenger cars dropped by 50% in 2020, in contrast to a 15.5% drop in all passenger car sales. That’s 1000 FCEVs out of roughly 14.5 million new vehicles sold in the United States last year. While this may suggest that the United States should be counted out as a viable market for hydrogen mobility, 2021 has brought about three big signs of progress:

Image credit: https://insideevs.com/news/482386/us-hydrogen-fuel-cell-car-sales-2020/
  1. U.S. returns to the Paris climate agreement. This request to rejoin the U.N. commitment to the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050—along with a call for investing $1.7 trillion over 10 years toward a portfolio of clean energy technologies—could provide the drive and backing needed for the deployment of the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure that would lead to mass consumer adoption of FCEVs.
  1. General Motors announces plan to exclusively offer electric vehicles by 2035. GM, the largest U.S. automotive manufacturer, announced its intention to end the production of diesel- and gas-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs by 2035, moving its entire fleet to electric power. The company also joined the Business Ambition Pledge, following companies like BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Volvo. Their recent deal with heavy-duty truck manufacturer Navistar to supply hydrogen fuel cell units for a green semi-tractor model also offers promise for the heavy-duty market. These moves may open the door to further innovation in FCEVs, increasing consumers’ options for zero-emission vehicles.
  1. Comprehensive energy plan, 20 years in the making, is back on the table. Bipartisan efforts to pass a U.S. energy plan are gaining momentum. This may better pave the way for a comprehensive strategy for climate change and the funding needed for aging U.S. infrastructure.

These three recent announcements could help the United States catch up in the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, aligning with strategic infrastructure moves that have enabled change throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. There have always been some factors working against the U.S. for FCEVs:

  • Geographic size: The sheer size of the United States has exacerbated the refuelling infrastructure challenge. The widespread adoption in Australia, though, which approaches its size with far less population density, should provide valuable lessons.
  • Consumer behavior: With strong preferences for larger SUVs and trucks, current compact FCEVs are a harder sell. Range anxiety is also a significant deterrent to the adoption of traditional EVs, whose charging time is significantly longer than FCEVs.
  • State by state rollout: With a fragmented state by state commitment, California is the only state prior to 2021 with a significant investment in hydrogen mobility, making FCEVs a viable consumer purchase before a change in coordinated federal commitment to climate change.

Governmental and commercial commitments to emissions targets may help to make the United States a viable hydrogen economy.

With a track record of success in rapidly deploying hydrogen refuelling infrastructure globally, Haskel Hydrogen Systems is happy to offer guidance to municipalities and commercial ventures exploring FCEV pilot programs:

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