Germany will become the first country completely accessible to fuel cell vehicles in 2015, when carmaker Daimler and the Linde technology group will build 20 new hydrogen filling stations. The result will quadruple the number of public stations available and make it possible for a fuel cell vehicle to reach any location in the country.
Daimler's plans to start mass-producing fuel cell vehicles next year were severely limited by the lack of public hydrogen filling stations in Germany. The carmaker realized that if its vision of battery-powered electric vehicles gaining mass appeal in tandem with fuel cell electrics was to come true, it needed to so something about the lack of hydrogen infrastructure.
Installation of the hydrogen refueling pumps will begin next year at existing gas stations currently operated by various oil companies. Daimler and Linde said their investment would be "in the tens of millions of euros," declining to be more specific. They said they were open to teaming up with other potential partners in the fuel, energy and automotive industry.
"The time is ripe for electric vehicles powered by fuel cells, and we must now address the subject of the relevant infrastructure," said Dieter Zetsche, Daimler's chairman and the director of its Mercedes-Benz Cars unit. "Car drivers can only benefit from the advantages of technology if there are enough hydrogen filling stations available: long ranges, short refueling times and no local emissions."
Fuel cell vehicles are essentially a different kind of electric car. Fuel cells generate electricity in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, which yields only pure water vapor. In a battery electric, the electricity is already stored in the battery. In both cases, the electricity powers the vehicle's engine.
Of the 30 hydrogen filling stations operating now in Germany, only seven are available to the public. According to Daimler, you would need at least five to 10 filling stations to supply a major city. While building 20 new stations over three years won't accomplish that, it will allow the connection of major cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Munich with hydrogen filling stations along main traffic routes.
This will make it possible for a fuel cell vehicle to reach any distant corner of Germany without fear of running out of hydrogen before finding another refueling station. It is as close as it gets, for now, to a comprehensive network of hydrogen filling stations and will mean that Germany will have the most advanced hydrogen infrastructure in the world.
Not waiting for government support
"It's not clear yet if the government will support this, but we'll build the hydrogen refueling network anyway," said Matthias Brock, communications manager for Daimler's research and development department.
Daimler and Linde's network is not subsidized by the government, but it builds on some programs that are. There is the H2-Mobility project -- which works to slowly increase the number of hydrogen filling stations. There is also the Clean Energy Partnership -- which tests the system compatibility of hydrogen in everyday use. It also tests hydrogen's clean and sustainable production, transportation and storage. The programs are supported by Germany's National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology.
There are less than 100 publicly available hydrogen refueling stations worldwide. Government funding is less than $1 billion globally, with successors to completed programs in Japan, Korea and Germany not yet announced. The U.S. Department of Energy has also cut its research and development spending in this area.
"The development of electrical mobility will be largely characterized by the hydrogen fuel-cell," Wolfgang Reitzle, Linde's chairman, said in a statement. "We are delighted to be able to shape this development in cooperation with Daimler. We see ourselves as a forerunner in the field, and aim to promote the market maturity of hydrogen-powered vehicles."