I published this article in Hydrogen Fuel News a couple of weeks after the article on the then-new Ford Lightning. It's getting difficult to find on the HFN site, so I've republished it here. Creating a country-wide starter network of hydrogen fueling stations is still a fine idea.
Originally published June 16, 2021:
How to get from here to there and back again…
If Ford’s F150 Lightning Project Manager Linda Zhang read my earlier Hydrogen Fuel News article describing a hydrogen-powered 1000-mile LightningH, she may be converting their EV truck into a long distance cruiser as we speak. 😉 When Ford gets it right, the LightningH should quickly replace the incredibly popular gasoline-powered F150 and could sell a million copies a year, with 10 million on our highways by 2035.
But – Those clean and green H-trucks won’t sell rapidly without reliable access to hydrogen. To avoid a bottleneck, let’s jump-start a country-wide hydrogen network right now.
Where to begin?
The long-haul trucking industry just won't work with gigantic battery packs, so it will probably build an initial set of hydrogen stations to power their upcoming self-driving big rigs. I talked with their reps at a SEPA conference several years ago — they said they’d be happy to fuel our smaller vehicles, too. But, they’ll focus first on a few highways: I-10, I-40… the good-weather, high-value arteries. Let’s instead build our own network – one that can refuel a long-distance hydrogen vehicle anywhere in the U.S. That’s the jump-start that’s been missing. Elon did it for Tesla – with thousands of Supercharger stations in the U.S. alone. Let’s begin with a fraction of that number and grow it from there.
The U.S. has a huge advantage – a wonderful Interstate highway system with four lanes not far from anyone. (Thanks, Ike!) That’s where Ford and the USDOE’s Jennifer Granholm/Jigar Shah should team up to subsidize rapid installations of hydrogen fuel stations. They can offer funds & extended incentives to 100 service stations that have the space to install an electrolyzer (the gadget that extracts hydrogen from water) and some hydrogen storage tanks. (While we’re at it, let’s be sure to standardize the hydrogen pumps such that any brand of H-powered vehicle will be able to easily tap in. The battery-vehicle charging network has developed without that feature and is a bit complicated as a result.)
The total cost of our 100 demo H-stations will be perhaps $500 million, based on extrapolation of an NREL article at https://tinyurl.com/3sx636sp. That’s a reasonable investment to provide deal-making support for a huge new industry. The stations will have ever-increasing access to green (zero-CO2) electricity. (More on that in another article. Hint: It will involve high-voltage DC power lines fed by solar panels in the southwest and wind turbines in the heartland.) The H-stations will extract and store hydrogen from water on-the-spot, relieving the grid of excess electricity when wind and solar produce more than other customers can use.
Given the LightningH’s thousand-mile range, let’s consider what first-adopters (like you and me, I suspect) might like to see on a “HydroGen Station, V1” map. At a minimum and just to get the H-pickups rolling, I’d like to have fuel within 200 miles of anywhere I drive. When I’m towing a travel trailer and my range is reduced to 500 miles, I could still comfortably arrive with plenty to spare. To meet a goal of less than ~200 miles to a station, our map fills out as shown below. (Note: California already has about 50 H-stations operating on their hydrogen highway. That’s great, but let’s keep our map simple for now.)
Our “starter” network of hydrogen fuel stations
This looks like a lot of stations, but there are now about 110,000 gasoline stations in the U.S. As we evolve to an all-electric country, we’ll gradually replace those with perhaps 2500 H-stations by 2050’s E-equilibrium.
Why the huge decrease in gas stations over the next few decades? Within a decade or two, most around-town traveling should be via millions of small, shared, on-demand self-driving electric cars, with longer-range e-vans covering routine intercity commutes. (See my post here titled “A Tale of Two Commutes”.) Given tap-a-cellphone access to an Uber-like driverless vehicle waiting a few blocks away, and given no need to park downtown plus a tap-a-phone ride back home with the groceries and kids, public transportation will be quick and convenient. These e-vehicles will have no need for gasoline stations. The expense of owning a second car will no longer make much sense, and trips for those who don’t drive will be simple and safe as well. The hydrogen refueling stations will be there to support longer trips, and H-refueling with your solar-powered home electrolyzer could be standard by then, too.
The fleet of H-vehicles will become a backbone of the renewable economy, supplying electricity to the grid whenever when solar and wind output drops off. The F150 Lightning platform has been designed by Ford to back up our electrical grid when needed. Ten million 580 kWh LightningH’s parked throughout the country, incentivized and volunteered to help when the Smart Grid calls, could make up to 5000 GWh available when needed. (More on that in another article, but for now: That’s a LOT of nicely distributed energy storage.)
With our 100-station investment supporting vehicles like the long-distance LightningH, range anxiety will dwindle. Given the advantages built into the Lightning platform (read that June 1st, 2021 article again, please) and expansion of financial incentives encouraging us to buy electric, why would I ever again drive a gasoline-burner?
Author’s Notes: The map above represents a quick look at what should be sufficient to encourage early purchases of the LightningH. As California has learned, it’s hard to sell HCars if the hydrogen supply isn’t reliable: https://tinyurl.com/jz46a2cx. We can avoid that deal-breaker by producing the hydrogen at the gas stations. Also – ongoing research should greatly improve both the efficiency and safety of hydrogen storage. The airlines are waiting for that breakthrough to allow long-distance electric trips on the sky highways.
The author, Dr. H. Robert Meyer, is an environmental scientist with decades of experience. After serving as a Navy Officer, he began his career at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1976 then moved on to run large projects around the country. His background in physics, environmental protection and alternative energy including small nuclear helps unravel the complexities of converting a planet to all-electric. He'd like to focus attention on the tough-to-grasp size of the CO2 reduction problem — the enormous effort required to reverse climate change is not yet widely understood. We need to drastically ramp up the installation rates of green energy and its backups to get to zero emissions before time runs out.
All Voters says:
Come on Warren Buffet, add these stations to your Flying J/Pilt Truckstops and be an American Hero!
Russell Clepper says:
The H2 fueling station issue is exactly what needs to be addressed if FCEV’s are ever going to be allowed to make the impact they have the potential to make. It’s great to see that someone with your experience, knowledge and vision is promoting so!utions to this problem. Now where are the folks with the money and power?
Bob Meyer says:
Thanks, Russell – There are a half-dozen battery-powered full-size pickups about to hit the market, at least per the articles I’m seeing. None look to have a useful range when towing, and a truck that doesn’t tow isn’t of much use to the millions of us who do. With the reasonably detailed info released by Ford for the Lightning, the problem with batteries in larger vehicles has been brought into focus. The Lightning would need more than 3 tons of batteries to have a towing range similar to my gasoline F150. That’s not going to happen. It’s suddenly clear that hydrogen can handle this problem, batteries can’t. Issues with the end-to-end efficiency of hydrogen power don’t matter much when it’s the only way to get the job done. We didn’t really know that until the battery-powered Lightning’s specifications appeared. -Bob
Bob Meyer says:
The big truckstops ought to be able to add hydrogen fueling stations easily agreed.